It’s Time for Facebook to Start Assuming More Social Responsibilty

This is a personal rant I feel compelled to share.

This morning I came across an Amber Alert on Facebook that was shared by someone I’m connected to in my newsfeed. It was a heartbreaking notice of a (local to me) 18 month old child who was abducted after his father allegedly assaulted his mother and then made threats about taking not only his own life, but that of his innocent son as well (*Update – he has since been – thankfully – found safe).

I shared it on my wall and thought “why the hell isn’t Facebook doing more”? Why was this official, police issued Amber Alert not automatically included in my newsfeed since I live in the exact area in which it was issued?

Doing some research, I found out that in January of 2011, Facebook announced a partnership with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to:

“enable millions of Facebook users across the country receive AMBER Alerts via their accounts”

The key word to note there is “enable”. It’s an “opt in” program that I – and I’d guess most Facebook users – never even knew existed. It would appear, I’m not one of the 110,000 folks (out of the over 1 BILLION people on Facebook) “in the know” about this.

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I’m also not one of the 33,000 people “in the know” (AKA, subscribed to the Texas Amber Alert app) out of the 26 MILLION people who live in Texas.

I have to invite notices of a local child in danger into my Facebook, yet big brands and crappy websites get to intrude on my feed day in and day out as long as they shell out a few bucks to do so – with no way for me to opt out.

Am I the only person who sees a void here?

Look, I’m not saying that Facebook shouldn’t be able to monetize or that they shouldn’t be able to put ads in my feed. I get it – and they have every right to profit off of me as a free user of their service.

But as the world’s most visited website and therefore also the largest hub for social media in existence, isn’t it time they stepped up and showed more social responsibility in that world?

Could they not devote the same time to integrating official, police issued Amber Alerts into our newsfeeds as they did on say creating new emoticons?

Facebook gives me the ability as an advertiser to target anyone who lives within 25 miles of Houston:

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If they integrated Amber Alerts into our feeds, they’d have been able to put this toddler’s face in front of 2.3 MILLION people – directly in the city where he went missing (and believed to be in grave danger) right when it was issued.

My local Shell station runs a TV channel advertising the lottery at their cash register that taps into the local Amber Alert system. How can Facebook not feel a moral responsibility – a SOCIAL responsibility – to do the same?

I’m not asking Facebook to build new technology. I’m asking them to use technology they’ve already built to do some good in addition to doing some advertising.

It’s time to grow up Facebook. You’re not a group of college kids developing code anymore.

You’re a real physical part of our world, even if your actual existence is virtual in nature.

It’s time to start figuring out how you can improve that world in addition to figuring out how to monetize it.

About Rae Hoffman

Rae Hoffman aka "Sugarrae" is an affiliate marketing veteran and the CEO of PushFire, a search marketing agency specializing in SEO audits and link building strategies. She is also the author of the often controversial Sugarrae blog. You can connect with Rae via Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

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  1. I’m in no way defending FB here. They are completely overwhelmed when it comes to support and services. You said it though – over 1 BILLION active users. Lets say that even if 10% of them are complete morons and keep spamming Facebook Support with stupid requests? That would kill any support structure.

    They need to figure out how to handle the influx of Support Requests, Fix their existing processes – and hire a LOT more people for issues just like you listed!

    • Oh, I’m sure they have a ton of idiotic support requests. I guess I’m just a karma person at heart – I figure if they can spend time developing new emoticons, they should probably have time for world improvement as well. ;-)

  2. I agree 100% Rae

    I am one of those guys that RT’s and post Amber alerts all the time. Even if Facebook put it on the right side of the pages it would be better than the status updates I never see. They could put it up by region and give it a yellow background or something.

    Back when I was a volunteer fireman we had a suspected kidnapping of a 14 or 15 year old girl in my small town. My job was to stop every car that passed by the parents house and also take plate numbers. I saw the look on the parents faces and the pain they were feeling. I think I was like 18 or 19 at the time but it is engrained in my head forever. The thought of a child being out there in the custody of a stranger(or estranged parent) that is probably going to do them harm enrages me.

    Not once have I ever thought about not retweeting an Amber Alert. It usually goes across a few social accounts I have. The best response I get is from my social account aimed at NASCAR fans. Since they are all around the country I usually see an Amber alert I put out rt’d many times. If I can do a regional Amber Alert it sure enough can be done by Facebook.

  3. Agreed. Google / Bing should do this as well.

    I’m fairly optimistic this will happen at some point…better sooner than later.

  4. Absofreakinglutely. In fact, it would probably be a benefit Facebook to have official Amber Alerts built in because people are constantly sharing fake or outdated ones thinking that they’re real and that just makes a mess of things… if the official notices were automatically posted people could stop sucking up space and resources with the false leads and fake alerts.

    • Yeah – every time someone posts those I usually do a quick search and end up commenting something like “This is from 2011″ – that’s why I was clear to say official, police issued Amber Alerts. :) LOL

  5. Shared on my page on Facebook. This is an issue that really should be used on all the large social media areas. If the advertising works they way they say, this would be an excellent way to get the alerts out.

    • Agreed Sandy – and it does work, at least as far as I can, the way they say – I use it myself quite a bit lately and the micro-targeting I can do is pretty insane.

  6. What’s interesting is that MySpace had this feature back in the day. Right above your bulletins, you could see an Amber alert for your area which told you all of the relevant information. I thought it was a neat feature and very powerful because it got my friends talking/posting about it, “Have you seen the Amber alert?” etc. and that was the pre-smartphone era.

    It makes me wonder what kind of an effect this alert could have if it showed up in your Facebook feed on desktop AND mobile, granted that many phones today have Amber alert built in.

    My own phone alerts kept me looking for a grey truck for a week when I got the constant Amber alerts. With so many people on facebook, the impact of including the alerts would most likely result in immediate capture of whoever took the kid.

    • Re phones having it built in – really? I have an iPhone 5 and have never seen an Amber Alert pop up on it, or the iPhone 4s before it… wonder if it’s something I have to turn on. However, phones don’t pop advertising onto my screen, and are much more “private”. People using Facebook expect to see ads at this point – it would just be nice, and helpful to the world at large, if a few of those ads contained altruistic messages once in a while. ;-)

  7. Thank you Rae. When nobody could figure out how to adequately monetize Facebook it went viral for the good idea it was and the society it helped bring together. Now though, rather than focus on the society it created it’s selling out that society and abandoning them, abdicating responsibility to continue through in what everyone thought was a good community building idea – and focusing 100% on the beans to squeeze every buck out of every area possible. Send a message? $1. Points in a game? $$, Amber Alert? … chirp, chirp, chirp – click (street light) … Amber Alert?

    The accountants don’t know what an Amber Alert is. And that’s the direction Facebook is headed. I think it’s called “Jumping the Shark”. Is it now? No. But it’s going there.

    • Yeah – and don’t get me wrong, I’m all for making money. :) I just think their level of visibility also comes with a requirement of some altruism as well.

      • As a parent I’ve had a missing child for 30 seconds… At a mall, a park, suddenly my child was just “lost” and those moments, though short, seemed like gut wrenching eternity because I’d let my child out of my sight. Amber Alerts on Facebook are a really good idea and even moreso maybe when parents are away traveling on vacation and they lose a child in a crowd. Facebook has the potential to reach half of the people in any given community. I would more than welcome the implementation of this in my Facebook feed.

  8. Not familiar with these, nothing similar in the UK…

  9. This post has at least inspired me to go get signed up on the Amber Alert page. I honestly had no idea that it even existed!

    Is it possible that this is set up the way that it is because the Amber Alert system requested it that way? Sleazy brands are under way different rules than government organizations, voluntary programs, etc.

    • Carmen – glad you got signed up. :) It’s very possible – I don’t know the inner politics that unfortunately accompany a lot of non profit organizations.

  10. My two cents? Facebook should give users an option to put certain updates on top of their news feed. The current news feed absolutely sucks at the moment, as you can only edit what you want to see and what you do not. You simply can’t have everything if you want updates from a certain page like Amber Alert. Maybe something like putting stars or like what you’d do with your “close friends”?

  11. Rae,

    Love the rant and totally agree with that particular FB issue although there are many others as well!

    Fact is I’d love to see you rewrite this article now that ‘brother’ FB has been outed for sharing our private data with only God knows exactly who besides the NSA!

    Bet you’d have a field day with that one :-)

    And remember if you’re short for ideas to write about just pick up the news and see who else has been outed for throwing their users under the bus!

    I LOVE it

    Thanks for the post, it fires me up to know other feel the same way about being ‘pawned out’ by those we trust!


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