You might also start seeing missing children as you scroll through selfies and reels on your Instagram feed. While ‘Meta’ and ‘children’ aren’t typically two words anyone wants to see near each other, this time they’re coming together for some good news. Starting today, Instagram users can start seeing and sharing notices of missing children on the app through a new AMBER Alerts feature.
The feature, which Meta says will expand to 25 countries in the coming weeks, builds off a similar initiative rolled out on Facebook back in 2015. If an AMBER Alert is issued by law enforcement, users in the designated search area will see an alert pop in their feed. Instagram claims these repros will be “rare” and said it determines whether or not a user is in search areas using a combination of the city listed in their bio, IP address, and location services.
Gizmodo saw a version of that alert which will include a photo of the missing child’s face, a description of their name, and their last known location. It’s Instagram, so yes people can quickly share that alert with others.
“Instagram is a platform based on the power of photos, making it a perfect fit for the AMBER Alert program,” National Center for Missing & Exploited Children President and CEO Michelle DeLaune said in a statement. “We know that photos are a critical tool in the search for missing children and by expanding the reach to the Instagram audience, we’ll be able to share photos of missing children with so many more people.”
In a statement shared with Gizmodo, Meta said it developed the feature in partnership with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) in the U.S. and comparable child safety organizations in other countries. Meta says the Facebook version of its alert system has assisted in “hundreds” of cases in the U.S. and around the world.
The move to social media is a natural progression for AMBER alerts which have evolved—sometimes at a painfully slow pace—to changing communication platforms. Though most people now recognize the alerts for their distinctive, at times uncomfortably loud blaring on cell phones, they actually date back to 1996 in Dallas, Texas. The AMBER alerts system slowly spread until it reached all 50 states by 2009. The Wireless Emergency Alerts system, which brought the alerts to phones, began in 2013.
Those wireless alerts have made a real impact. The Department of Justice reports that at least 123 children have been rescued thanks to the wireless alert system.