Long before Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, when a child went missing, the information might appear only in local newspapers, on news stations or even on milk cartons. Most missing children alerts were local, though. Only a few made the side of milk cartons.

But times have changed. The rise of social media and an interconnected world can get notice out on missing children and adults in an instant. Known commonly as “Amber Alerts” for children and “Silver Alerts” for older adults, they can be delivered via alert to cellphones and are often put on Facebook by law enforcement.

Locally, if a person goes missing in Laurel, the Laurel Police Department will issue an alert, then alert local media, who will then alert the public. The public will then share those alerts on their pages. Others will see those pages and share again. In a matter of seconds, the missing Sally Sue alert could reach millions of people. It is a great way to saturate the area in an effort to return children home safely.

We caution, though, when seeing one of those alerts to at least click on the original link before blindly sharing that information. More and more, by the time those alerts are shared, the child or older adult has been found and returned home. In many instances, a click on the original post will show that the person had been found weeks, if not months earlier.

We know that the desire to get the information out to the masses sometimes takes over. We want to have those children returned safely. We want grandpa to be found. It is human nature. But does any good come out of sharing a missing child post on Jan. 2 when that child had been found on Dec. 12? 

Instead of just clicking share, take an extra 12 seconds or so to click on the original link. The majority of the posts will have updates showing that all is well. Hence, no reason to share a missing person post for someone who has been home safely for three weeks.

We know our collective attention spans are becoming slimmer. We know that time is valuable. We also know that it might take an extra 10 seconds to click a link instead of just blindly sharing. And we also know that the rush to share spans far beyond simple amber alerts. It is used as a political tool aimed at subterfuge. People bank on others not doing the necessary legwork for verification. 

If you do find someone sharing a missing person post and that person has been found, make people aware of it. Post the updated “found” information. Be proactive.

And, please, don’t blindly share social media posts.

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