Over the last three decades, new ideas evolved on how to find missing children in a far-reaching manner. After the disappearance of Etan Patz in New York, photos of him began appearing on milk cartons in the 1980s. Then in the 1990s, the AMBER Alert system was created and timely notices were distributed through mass media via radio stations, television stations, and billboards. This system was also implemented across several countries. Now, as technology shifts again, the Internet is playing an increasing role in tracking down missing children on an even wider scale.
The Missing Children Society of Canada created a campaign called the World’s Most Valuable Social Network that asks people to donate their Facebook and Twitter feed to send notices of missing children. Each time a child goes missing, an alert would be sent automatically to the user’s donated accounts. The messages are geo-targeted and mobile-friendly so that a user in Toronto, for example, would see the alerts in that surrounding area first.
According to the group, over 50,000 children are reported missing in Canada every year. The campaign has been dubbed the “first ever online community search party” for missing kids.
In Europe, the NotFound project hopes to use the Internet’s 404 pages to find missing children. A website owner can alter their code to display missing children information in place of a 404 “not found” page. The page would display a photo of the missing child, their age, and the location and date they went missing. The application also displays “cold cases” where children have been missing for years, and uses aging software to speculate how the person would look like today.
The project was launched in fall by the Belgian charity Child Focus in collaboration with Missing Children Europe. Since launching, over one million missing children ads were shown on the 404 page, according to NotFound’s Twitter account.
At the moment, the application only shows missing children in Belgium, but will support several other European countries as well as the U.S. and Canada in the future.
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