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CB2: Facebook Amber Alerts, an Open Letter

Today’s CB2 is an open letter to Facebook’s Public Policy Communications Manager, Andrew Noyes as headlines such as ABC’s “Facebook to Issue Amber Alerts to Help in Locating Missing Kids” are being shared across the web.

Dear Andrew,

As a government and public safety technologist having devoted a lot of time and attention to mass notifications and Amber Alerts, today’s articles announcing that Facebook is issuing Amber Alerts jumped right out at me. I think it’s great that all 50 states have their own Amber Alert pages that people can like, and in turn see updates in their News Feed. I realize the task doesn’t happen overnight, and applaud this milestone.

Facebook should be excited about this, as should parents everywhere. Just last week a 1 year old was in the back seat of a stolen car 4 blocks from my office, and I used Facebook to immediately put friends on the lookout – even before an Amber Alert was issued.

But I challenge your statement: “We try to be as innovative in safety as we are in any other aspect of our business.” Across law enforcement as a whole, yes, these Facebook pages are innovative, but for Facebook engineers… I hope your team takes this much further.

The pages are a nice start, but the real work is in helping to spread Amber Alerts intelligently among users without the traditional process of locating and Liking their state’s Facebook page – which I predict will yield a single digit % of their total population at best, gauging by the closest comparison of state emergency management alert Facebook pages. Yes the network effect of those small number of people sharing Amber Alerts with their friends does spread word to a larger audience, but each hop takes time and relies on strong influencers to spread rapidly (as I explain in an earlier post “CB2: Social Alerting With Influence“).

It wouldn’t be fair to critique without offering up suggestions on how I would do it, so here are four ideas to get rolling. I hope they inspire creative thought among your team and I invite you all to join our social network GovLoop here in return – the largest social network of awesome Government leaders.

Idea 1: Leverage existing ad space – Since Facebook ads can be targeted by location, include something similar to what’s pictured here in your rotation. This still requires Liking, but brings Amber Alerts to the user’s attention to get those numbers up.

Idea 2: Email and mobile notifications – They can be disabled by default as not to overload users, but it would be helpful to have a section like the one pictured below on Facebook’s Notification Settings page. Amber Alerts are already distributed over SMS and Email to subscribers. Checking these boxes should opt in the Facebook user immediately, based on the Current Location in their profile. Additionally, Push Notifications could be sent to smart phones for those users concerned about text messaging rates.

Idea 3: Feature active alerts – We’re used to seeing important messages from Facebook above our News Feed from time to time. So how about something like this? Clicking Share would post it to your own wall, while giving users the option not to view these again in the future.

Idea 4: Get hyper-local – While there’s an Amber Alert Facebook page now for each state, alerts can be issued for a much smaller radius – since I don’t care about an alert in Miami when I’m 4 hours away in St. Pete. Since it’s impractical to create hundreds more pages, perhaps you can develop a private application for use by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that enables them to enter a location an effective radius, enabling you to target the ideas above more accurately at Facebook users. Location-based emergency push notifications is where the future is.

Thanks for your time Andrew and I welcome you to respond in the comments section below!



Chris Bennett


chris.bennett [@T] post.harvard.edu

Read Last Week’s CB2: BP Saves Christmas?

About Chris Bennett (Jump to Online Resume)

Chris Bennett is a emergency management innovator who is trying to make government better by improving citizen preparedness and crisis communications. He’s a graduate of Wharton with a master’s from Harvard with in “Technology, Innovation, Education.” His portfolio of companies and former projects include OneStorm Hurricane Preparedness, ReadyTown, GovLive, TexasPrepares and America’s Emergency Network. Chris was the recipient of FL Governor Crist’s 2008 Public Information Award. He lives in St. Petersburg, FL, loves to fish, and has been spotted sharing a pint with GovLoop Founder Steve Ressler in Tampa.

What does CB2 Mean? “Chris Bennett’s Crisis Blog.” It was originally CB Squared but the superscript 2 never took, so now we’re rocking the big 2.

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Megan Price

Very well thought out and I agree with it all! This would be one thing Facebook could automatically enable me to be apart of and I wont disable it.

Andrew Noyes

Hi Chris,

We appreciate the kind words about our launch of potentially life-saving AMBER Alerts on Facebook. We are hopeful that this week’s announcement offers the many dedicated law enforcement officials around the country another useful tool to find and safely recover abducted children. Regarding your idea to “leverage existing ad space.” We announced during our press conference with DOJ and NCMEC that we’d be running 50 million ad impressions to promote the 53 pages. Regarding your idea on “email and mobile notifications,” there are laws and rules around both how email and text messages can be sent to users. We always want to give users the option to choose how they want to be contacted. They can subscribe to the pages with SMS if they’d like. Regarding your idea about hyper-local alerts. Currently the main AMBER Alert feeds we use are state-based only. The state AMBER coordinators have the choice of creating more localized pages and we will continue to look into other technological solutions. In instances where a child is missing or abducted, it is beneficial to spread the word as widely as possible within a certain region. A kidnapped child in Miami can easily make it St Petersburg in several hours.

Again, thanks for your interest.

Andrew Noyes,

Manager, Public Policy Communications


Chris Bennett


Thank you for taking the time to respond to each point and welcome to the community here at GovLoop. I’m glad to hear about the ad space – something that wasn’t mentioned widely in the press. I discovered the press conference stream sadly after the blog.

On the notifications front, I’m with you on not violating those laws, as nobody wants SMS spam, but I think there’s a way to incorporate/communicate the opt-in process more clearly via Facebook. Your idea on subscribing to page updates via SMS may be the solution – that’s a great one. Perhaps something like what I have on the right here would draw more attention to it.

Good point about the child making it quickly from Miami too. The experts would know best when and where to alert. I hope my final point though stresses that whether Amber or city emergency alerts, these are life-saving systems that traditionally have low citizen participation due in part to a city’s limited ability to market them. FB has high participation and knows for the most part a user’s current city (possibly even current location). On an opt-in basis of course, I would like to see FB continue thinking along the lines of helping government communicate with people in their town during an emergency, using this Amber Alert milestone as the kickoff.

And by the way, the score is now Facebook: 1 | Twitter: 0 for responding to my ideas. Not even showing up at the Twitter offices in person got me any response to my idea on making sure official emergency Tweets got noticed (summed up in the picture below).