Use Social Media for Missing Children Cases

Kyron Horman, 7, went to a science fair 8:30 a.m. Friday morning at Skyline School with his grandmother. Horman, who was last seen going to class after the science fair, was never accounted for in the classroom.

The search for missing seven-year-old Kyron Horman enters its fourth day today. Horman went missing sometime early Friday after attending a science fair at Skyline School in Northwest Portland, Ore. Since then, the Multnomah County police department has brought in 65 detectives from different agencies and 60 trained searchers, according to The Oregonian.

While local authorities are doing everything they can, I can’t help but think this informs future solutions. Skyline is a smaller, more rural neighborhood within Portland. I have not one criticism to level regarding the search for Horman, but I think traditional methods could be aided by newer, smarter technologies to help engage communities in search efforts.

Think: Emergency social media protocol. This would give law enforcement the opportunity to send out mass messages, including photos and descriptions of missing children, via Twitter and Facebook. How might this be done? Twitter already has location-based services, while Facebook has temporarily delayed their highly anticipated rollout. Still, Facebook allows users to manually input their current city. Within hours of an initial report, community members could be alerted through social media.

The counter argument may be, “We already have TV, newspapers and Internet to inform us of missing children.” That’s true, but each requires active engagement and the mass media exposure may not be there in smaller communities. Skyline’s proximity to downtown Portland means The Oregonian, four local news networks and a few dozen blogs will pick be carrying the story. If this had occurred 100 miles away, that might not be the case. But people throughout the world use Twitter and Facebook. We can leverage this fact to save lives.

The emergency social media protocol would inform users who lived within a reasonable distance of where the child was last seen. (Perhaps a 15-20 mile radius.) Messages could be read on computer or mobile devices, creating a broader, more engaged network within the community. Finally, this service could work to gather tips from sources otherwise overlooked.

I wish there was something more I could do to join the search for Horman. It’s not like this is the first time I’ve heard of a child gone missing, but this one is so close to home. I grew a little frustrated over the weekend seeing search crews wading through tall grass and digging through bundles of bushes. The search seemed so misguided. But then again, they’re the professionals here. I’m just a guy who blogs.

Still, I think social media could provide quick, easy and affordable enhancements to search and rescue efforts. Even if it saves just one child. no one could say it’s not worth it.