Although traditional media coverage is critical in disseminating pictures of and information about a missing child, it’s important to consider working with all types of media.
Traditional TV, print and radio media outlets can reach tens of thousands of homes, but social media can be the most important and flexible tool for the family of a missing child.
Social media can make a dramatic impact at the beginning of a missing child investigation, but it is also an important tool for families when they experience a decline of media interest.
It may also be the only resource when law enforcement is left with diminishing leads or options.
As mentioned in earlier chapters, the family of missing a child is, and always has been, the strongest advocate and most genuine voice for a missing child.
Social media allows families to be heard without interference and without cost.
There are many reasons to consider using social media, and the family liaison should share the ideas noted below with the family, if they are not already aware of them, and assist families in their implementation:
- Supporters. When a family tells their story through social media, this can lead to a community of support they may not have known they had.
This new band of supporters will help spread their message and are the ones who can help provide strength when the family needs it most.
- Message. A Facebook page, tweet, blog or use of any other social platform is something family members can work on to be a part of the search effort and at the same time provide them with some sense of control.
The media and law enforcement have different perspectives and priorities when speaking with the public; however, social media allows the family to add a personal perspective when they reach out to the public.
- Story. Traditional media outlets are increasingly short staffed and tend to operate under short lead times.
Social media, especially the use of Facebook or Twitter related to a missing child’s case, helps reporters find the story and gather the information they need from facts to pictures to video.
And the “likes” and “shares” amassed help producers and journalists see how the story is relevant to their readers and viewers.
Further, by tagging traditional TV, radio and news outlets in your posts, stations and agencies that control the news media are encouraged to take interest in your personal story.
Social media considerations. There are many aspects of social media families should consider including:
- Getting an editor-in-chief or page administrator. Consider asking a nonimmediate family member or trusted friend to be the editor-in-chief/page administrator.
He or she will have greater emotional distance from the missing child’s case and help the family make better choices about what to say and when.
Preferably this should be someone who is skilled with social media.
- Avoiding negativity. Families may encounter criticism from the public in social media contexts. The best option is to not engage with those voices.
They are often uninformed, misguided or just looking to be out right cruel. Some identify these people as trolls, and often spread the message, “Don’t feed the trolls.” In Facebook those comments can be hidden from the public’s view.
This would be the best option; however, if it continues the person posting those messages can be banned from the page through Facebook settings.
- Staying committed. Families are encouraged to keep up with their page.
They don’t need to post every day or every week, but should make it part of their routine at a frequency with which they are comfortable.
Using Facebook to raise awareness. Facebook offers many tools to help families communicate with close friends and family members or more broadly with their community. Using these tools can help raise awareness and visibility about a missing child.
Immediate first steps should include:
- Posting a message on family members’ Facebook timelines noting their child/family member is missing. Upload a recent photo of the child and include any additional information about what the child was wearing and where he or she was last seen, directing viewers to call law enforcement with any information they have about the child.
Ask family friends and the child’s friends to share the status. Set the audience for the post to “Public” and ask friends to do the same. Note: When sharing something with the public, anyone, including people off of Facebook, can see it.
This will maximize the number of people who can see and share the post. Also note: People cannot share a profile. Facebook only allows one profile for each person.
- Utilizing social media conducted by others. When a missing child is reported to NCMEC, a missing child poster can be created.
The upper right hand corner of that poster contains various methods of sharing the poster. Activating the Facebook icon will automatically share the poster on a family’s Facebook page if connected to the Internet and Facebook.
- Checking the missing child’s social media pages for any activity, including Facebook and Instagram, for any ideas about where he or she was going or people he or she planned on meeting.
Groups are private spaces where families can connect with specific sets of people and share updates, photos or documents. Creating a group can help families bring together close family members and friends. And doing so will keep them updated about the missing child’s situation.
To keep this information private, there is an option to create a closed or secret group. Learn more about the privacy options for groups and how to create a group by visiting www.facebook.com/help.
Pages allow families to share their story and connect with people in a public environment. Families can use a Page to broadcast updates or photos and try to gain visibility in the community by publicly asking for help in recovering the missing child.
As an administrator of a Page, families can also review any content posted to that Page, respond to people and remove any unwanted comments. Learn more about posting to a Page, replying to comments and removing comments or banning people by visiting www.facebook.com/help.