The Trouble With Missing Child Chains
By now, you've probably seen at least one of the hundreds of missing child chain letters floating around the Internet. Unlike most e-mail chain letters, missing child chains are most often based on real cases. However, they are typically very emotionally charged and hastily written. They often provide too little information and ignore the drawbacks of e-mail as a tool for spreading this information.
A chain letter about a missing child case that doesn't provide essential and up-to-date information, or a link to a web site that contains it, is little better than junk mail and may cause more problems than it solves. Nonetheless, the motivation to forward is strong and we'd feel guilty if we didn't, for fear that the worst may happen if we don't. Hopefully the facts below will encourage you to at least verify the stories before you hit that forward button.
"AMBER Alerts" have been getting a lot of media attention recently. The "America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response" (AMBER) alert system was launched in the Fall of 2001 in response to the 1996 kidnapping and murder of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman. Under the AMBER plan, when local law enforcement is notified of a missing child case that fits specific criteria, radio and television stations and cable providers are given information to broadcast immediately. When the child is believed to be in immediate danger, time is an enemy and the AMBER plan gives officials one more tool to catch up with abductors.
Many organizations and web sites have jumped on the AMBER Alert bandwagon, offering their bulk e-mailing services to spread the word. They tap into mass-mailing databases and send the photo and name of the child to thousands at a time. This would seem like a good thing, but e-mail warnings are not included in the AMBER plan specifically because they are unreliable and cannot be retracted or controlled in any way once they are issued, unlike notices in the traditional media.
The AMBER plan is very specific about which cases qualify and how word is spread, but it seems that any chain letter about a missing child gets labeled an AMBER alert by the senders, anyway.. Learn more about the AMBER Plan.
National Center for Mising and Exploited Children
In the United States, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) is the authority on missing child cases. Any child that is reported missing to authorities in the U.S. is also reported to NCMEC. They provide an extensive searchable database of missing child posters, which provide useful information on each case, such as:
Most missing child chain letters contain only one or two of these important tidbits, if any at all.
The NCMEC provides many more constructive ways you can join their mission to save children in danger, ranging from banners you can place on a Web site, to e-mail notifications when a child goes missing in your area, to notices via your wireless phone. Visit MissingKids.com to learn more.