Faces of missing people (particularly children) frequently pop up on Facebook and other social networking sites, generally posted by well-meaning people. Folks share (and re-share) these photos and web-links, hoping to help locate those who have disappeared and might be in danger.
Spreading the word about missing people may be helpful … except when it’s not.
Why do experts like the Center for Missing & Exploited Children and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police urge caution before sharing photos and information about children and others that may be missing?
Several reasons may contribute to this wariness.
- Privacy Law - First, it’s important to note that the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 prohibits the publishing of identifying information (name, hometown, school, etc.) of a child that is not your own. In many states, it is illegal to photograph minors without permission, unless you are their parent. That may come into play, if a person posts a photo of a child who is suspected to be missing, if that photo did not come with parental approval for sharing.
- Family First - The first legitimate public reporting of a missing person generally originates with the family. A parent, spouse/significant other, or relative will likely report the situation to authorities. After that, a missing person’s notice may be generated. That’s when it becomes sharable, including a web-link to an officially recognized organization’s listing (with appropriate contact information). That means, if the missing person is not your child, or your spouse/significant other, or your family member, it may not be wise to initiate the publicity. It would be better to raise such suspicions with local or federal authorities instead of the internet community.
- Facts Matter - Occasionally, social networking posts alleging a person is missing end up to be incorrect. They may be based on rumors, or the supposedly absent person may turn up quickly after having been in no peril at all. Too-quick sharing can lead to widespread anxiety unnecessarily.
- Possible Peril - Sometimes public posting of missing people (especially children) may actually endanger the ones who are sought. It’s important to examine the sourcing of such posts. For example, too many cases have been reported of parents (or others) who may have been legally forbidden contact with their youngsters, but put up their own missing children reports anyway. The other parent may be hiding with the children for their own safety, and widespread sharing may put them in jeopardy. Similar examples include those escaping domestic abuse or other such threats. Sharing legitimate posts (and web-links) directly from groups like those listed above is a much safer bet.
- Focused Attention - Passing along outdated posts steals the spotlight from those missing child and missing people posts that truly need help right now. How many times do people hit the Facebook SHARE button without clicking through to read the original post? Often, these viral posts are several months (or even years) old. The individuals listed as missing may already have been found. News stories are updated when this occurs. Online listings are amended or removed. It only takes a few seconds to fact-check before posting or re-posting on social networking. Not doing so becomes a bit like the proverbial boy who cried “Wolf.” After too many false alarms, people stop paying attention.
- Sad Stories - Unchecked sharing can add to the sorrow of grieving families, if their missing person has met a tragic end. This extra anguish need not be the case, if well-meaning people would simply look at the posts before clicking them on for others to see.
All this is not to say people should not pass the word about people who really are missing.
Social networking can be extremely helpful, if it’s truly time to share information about missing people who are actually reported as missing. It’s just essential to check things out before posting.
Blind sharing isn’t always helpful, and it may be just the opposite.
Adapted by this user