'AMBER' an important new face on Facebook

Posted: Monday, January 17, 2011

Amber wants you to add her as a friend on your Facebook site. This Amber, however, is America’s Missing Broadcast Emergency Response.

“The AMBER Alert system is part of the Department of Public Safety,” Juneau Police Chief Greg Browning said. “If we ever have a situation such as a child abduction that requires an AMBER Alert I’ll be grateful for any opportunity to get the information out, including Facebook.”

The AMBER Alert expansion to Facebook became available to the social network site’s users on Jan. 12. Facebook users can receive state-specific AMBER Alert bulletins through Facebook’s “News Feed” feature.

Facebook is one more way to help spread the message that a child is in need when an AMBER Alert is issued and a positive step forward and a productive use of social media, stated Alaska State Trooper Capt. Barry Wilson, Alaska’s AMBER Alert Coordinator, in a press release

A total of 53 new AMBER Alert pages have been created for each state, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia. Users can share the AMBER Alerts with friends.

“Everyone at Facebook feels a responsibility to help protect children and, as a former federal prosecutor and a father of two, I am particularly proud that we are now part of the AMBER Alert program.” stated Chris Sonderby, Facebook Lead Security and Investigations Counsel in a press release.

The AMBER Alert system on Facebook stands in stark contrast of another use of social media: that of predators to lure victims to meetings, a dark use of Facebook and similar sites that has been seen locally.

Juneau resident Anthony Howard, 20, was sentenced Dec. 9, 2010 to six years in prison, with four suspended for second-degree attempted sexual abuse of a minor. Howard’s intended victims in this case were between the ages of 13 and 15, according to court records. Those records also state Howard would meet young women on Facebook and arrange meetings at an area of the Canton House that was known as “Sweet Dreams.”

The announcement of the new AMBER Alert addition by Facebook, the U.S. Department of Justice and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) came the day before the 15th anniversary of the abduction and murder of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, namesake of the national AMBER Alert Program.

Amber was pulled off her bike and thrown into a pickup truck on Jan. 13, 1996 and her body was later found in a drainage ditch four miles away. The case has never been solved. Her abduction led to the creation of the AMBER Alert program which has grown to a network of 120 AMBER plans across the country and spread into Canada, England, France, Greece, Portugal, Mexico, and other countries.

An estimated 800,000 children are reported missing every year according to the NCMEC.

“Average people doing average things but paying attention are saving lives and reuniting families,” NCMEC President Ernie Allen stated in a press release. “With more than 500 million Facebook users this bold initiative will help us mobilize many more people and bring more missing children home.”

“Facebook is what people use to communicate with in this day and age so I think the AMBER Alert addition there is a very good and positive thing,” Browning said.

The new AMBER Alert Facebook page for Alaska can be found at www.facebook.com/AMBERalertAK.

• Contact Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.

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