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BellaOnline's Missing and Exploited Children Editor

Responsible Social Networking

There is an amber alert making its way around Face Book and other social networking websites, which gives the following message in various forms: “Amber alert - A 3 yr old boy was taken by a man in Rochester MN driving 2006 a Mitsubishi Eclipse License Plate 98B351.” Then the Amber Alert plays on your emotions to keep the information going by stating “you would keep this going if this was your child or someone you knew" or “I expect to see this repeated on this page many times as a child is in danger!”

Unfortunately this Amber Alert is one of many fake alerts. This Amber Alert is a hoax that is circulating the web (since October 2009), in addition to being sent feverishly via text message. Active Amber Alerts can always be verified by going to the official Amber Alert website. When used as designed the Amber Alert Plan can be a live saver for a child who has been abducted or kidnapped. Yet, sadly when inaccurate or outdated information is circulated repeatedly it takes the focus off of actual missing children.

The Amber Alert Plan is programmed to quickly and efficiently bring descriptive information regarding the incident to the public domain who can help watch for the vehicle, kidnapper, or child described in the Amber Alert. The Amber Alert system found its inception after Amber Hagerman a 9 year old Arlington Texas girl was kidnapped while riding her bike near her grandparent’s home on Saturday, Jan. 13, 1996. A wide spread search fueled by volunteers was unsuccessful, and sadly Amber Hagerman’s brutally murdered body was found four days later. No one has been officially charged with Amber Hagerman’s kidnapping or murder.

Like virus hoaxes there is a ton of inaccurate and false information traveling the World Wide Web. People need to realize you cannot believe everything you read on the internet, and that it is imperative that information be verified before it is posted and continually re-posted. Verifying information takes only seconds, yet re-posting inaccurate information can fuel a fire that long should have been put out. Verifying information is easy. When I saw the post on my Face Book page, I simply did a search for “Rochester MN Amber Alert” and quickly realized this Amber Alert was no longer active or may have never existed.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), in order for an Amber Alert to be activated law enforcement must determine that the following criteria is met, “there is reasonable belief an abduction has occurred, the abduction is of a child age 17 years or younger, the law-enforcement agency believes the child is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death, and there is enough descriptive information about the abduction for law enforcement to issue an AMBER Alert to assist in the recovery of the child.”

Rather than choosing to fuel false information about a non-existent Amber Alert I chose to educate and hopefully provide a sense of responsibility for those who use social networks like Face Book, My Space, and Twitter to think before blindly re-posting information based on emotion and a sense of urgency. After all there are enough missing children to keep people looking for them everyday. Yet, re-posting based on emotions or panic is irresponsible. And, yes, if this was my child I would want people to be alert and looking for him or her, but looking for ghosts is simply a waste of time and energy.

If you have any information regarding a missing or murdered child, please contact your local police, FBI or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

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Content copyright © 2013 by Erika Lyn Smith. All rights reserved.
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