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No doubt you’ve seen these pleas on Facebook before: Share this photo to help find my missing child. But heartfelt messages don’t always have the best intentions behind them, and by sharing them you could actually be putting the child in danger. Have you ever thought of that?

Thousands upon thousands of well-meaning people share the image, hoping that it might be seen by someone who can help. And if it is seen by someone helpful, then everything in the world is well and good, right? Not always.

Too many people blindly believe what’s written in Facebook posts such as these. They want to help, to be seen as doing something about the problem. And because of this, they don’t think it through. This can be very dangerous.

Missing Persons Are Not Always Missing

Recently a Swedish journalist made it very clear that sometimes the missing children in these posts are not actually missing: they are hiding. A family’s secret identity was blown open after the father made a plea on Facebook. Well-meaning people worldwide shared the post until someone recognised the children.

What none of these well-meaning people realised was that the woman and children were given protected identities by police after leaving this man. Suddenly, their safety was put at risk, by people who had been trying to help reunite a family.

“The worst case scenario is that you contribute to someone being beaten, raped or killed. You have to think twice before sharing this type of searches for missing people on Facebook”, says Lotta Sonemalm at The Swedish Association of Women’s Shelters and Young Women’s Empowerment Centres (SKR).

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People in protection programs may be running from domestic violence, gang connections, or have been a witness to a serious crime. By exposing them, you leave them vulnerable to the people they are hiding from.

Interpol

Missing People May Belong Where They Are

Here’s another one that backfired somewhat: Police asked people to share a photo to find a girl’s parents. She had been found living with a Roma family, and police took her away thinking she had been kidnapped. The parents said they had adopted her from a Bulgarian lady. After DNA testing came back a week or so later, it turned out the police had actually taken her away from the only family she knew, the Roma family, and that her biological parents were the Bulgarian couple as claimed. At least this story had a happy ending, despite the trauma the little girl and her family went through.

Maria-Missing

What Can You Share?

It’s impossible for most people to tell a heartfelt search from a malevolent one, so it’s best to avoid sharing at all just in case.However, iIf the search originated from a police source, or comes with a link to a reputable newspaper showing that the police are searching for the children, then it is likely to be legitimate. Even so, it’s worth considering that it’s a well set up ruse, so maintain a sense of skepticism. You can also check the Interpol list of missing persons for verification.

Interpol-Missing-Persons

Emotional Porn

It’s also worth considering why people share these things in the first place. Some have described this as armchair activism, others as a form of emotional porn.

Many of the people who share these stories are often:

  • Trying to help a cause as best as they can from their living room.
  • Terrified that something similar may happen to their kids.
  • In some way attracted to the stories of other people’s grief.

Keep these points in mind when you consider sharing. To the people who see these stories every day, the people sharing them start to look like creepy tragedy-addicts who would rather click a few buttons than actually go out and help someone.

The Moral Of The Story

It’s the Internet. You can’t really know what to believe unless you properly critique the source, and you can’t always believe people are who they say they are. When it comes to kids, you need to be even more vigilant with your research. Don’t just share the sob stories without thinking, as you may endanger people with good reason to stay hidden.

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Have you seen people sharing missing persons stories on Facebook? Did it occur to you that they might not be legit? Let us know.

Image Credits: milk box Via Shutterstock

  1. Jeeya
    January 8, 2016 at 5:57 pm

    And also, fix the typos in your article if you want to be taken seriously.

  2. Jeeya
    January 8, 2016 at 5:55 pm

    Of COURSE if the only thing you can find on a specific case is on Facebook, it's bogus. But it's pretty irresponsible to make a blanket statement about NOT HELPING families whose children have gone missing. Enter the person's name into a Google search and if you can find the case listed in a reputable newspaper, police site, or well-known missing children (all three if you want to be entirely sure), then you can share. I'm also going to say that a crazy ex-boyfriend/husband looking for a girlfriend/wife is hardly in the same category as a missing or endangered child. Don't cry and whine about your plight because you chose to let a psycho into your life and take energy away from efforts to find missing children.

    • Gailcee
      February 23, 2016 at 11:38 am

      Jeeya - I totally agree with you. I also would like to see stats on how social media has helped. It may far outweigh the risks.

  3. Cynthia Caron
    June 24, 2015 at 8:34 pm

    As a Nonprofit Founder, in the USA, I hope to expand a bit further. First, I agree with a number of points that you've made regarding missing minors, however, it does not pertain the same to missing adults. Recognition is needed and there is no better source than social media and Internet services. (email, blogs,websites,etc.)

    Having 5,000 followers, on my personal FB, and over 15,000 on our State Pages, I can say that those who share are genuinely compassionate and share as they hope one would do the same if their loved one is missing. Many cases have been solved by FB sharing and rare , if ever that I've experienced , is a case found to be a person in witness protection. Yes, there are those who are troubled and will prey on those vulnerable and even those who are bonafide frauds that purposely will scam family of missing...thankfully, not a tremendous amount...and more thankful when they're exposed and held accountable by law enforcement.

    With that said, your comment of "If the search originated from a police source, or comes with a link to a reputable newspaper showing that the police are searching for the children, then it is likely to be legitimate" is the most insightful and valuable point. It only takes a moment to Google a name to see if legitimate. What I see happening most often is a frantic parent who reaches out on Facebook and a photo share begins and many times the child, usually a teenager, is located safe within a day or two. We, however, do not share those kinds of posts unless an actual police station number is given as to where one calls in a sighting. It's a very touchy area as we've seen cases in which the child may not be "actually missing" but with their "other parent" and the case is, in actuality, a child custody situation. Sometimes it's a prank, or hoax, started by classmates...and yes, there is a very real danger in the possibility of a stalker is actually looking for the child.

    The way those in the public can be helpful is to only share when the point of contact is a
    Law enforcement agency, the post has been verified with law enforcement as an "official missing person" and if spotted, report tips/leads to law enforcement and not share the sighting info in a comment on the post.

    One should always delete missing posters for the privacy of the missing, once found, as there is no danger greater than a pedophile, or potential abducter, to seek out vulnerable teens who have a history of being "troubled." I cringe when I see missing posters with the word "found" or "located" and recirculated. It also remains to be Google cached to "haunt" , years later, when the child is seeking a job, college, or more.

    • StillStanding
      April 20, 2016 at 11:47 pm

      No wonder victims of violence HIDE ALL PHOTOS of their kids!! Run, mommies, run! Many of these "missing" people were placed in safety for good reasons. Look up casee like Holly Collins.

  4. Be vigilant
    May 18, 2015 at 2:47 pm

    All those who say they won't stop sharing should be ashamed. You are putting lives in danger, so stop it! Let the police handle it. Have any of you ever had your life threatened or been abused by a boyfriend/spouse? I have and he didn't stop no matter how many times the police brought him in. My restraining order meant nothing to this guy. He threatened my kids. I had to move and change everything, phone numbers, email, etc. For some, it's far worse than what I went through and far more dangerous. Don't help reunite the abusers with their victims.

  5. Shelia Bradley-Smith
    May 18, 2015 at 1:04 am

    Unfortunately, some people online are parasites and want to take advantage of families with missing persons and everyone should do some research before sharing photos of the alleged missing person. On the other hand, families depend on the help of those sharing their missing loved ones, in hopes that someone will spot them or tell what they know about their disappearance. It's a shame that families become targets of exploitation while searching, but getting the faces of missing persons in all media is critical. I completely understand the concerns, but it's best to have them all over social media just in case someone spot them. Yes, I successfully assisted in locating a missing child via social media because his photos were shared. I personally will call the area law enforcement agency in that district to be sure that person is actually missing, then I share it. Every little bit helps when families are frantically searching for their children, just seeing a post about their loved ones does bring some comfort to know, people care. Take it from me, I have been sharing for 14 years now and pray someone tell me what happened to my kidnapped nieces Diamond and Tionda Bradley. Thank you for caring and be blessed.

  6. James Nilsen-Misra
    April 23, 2015 at 10:28 am

    I'm follow South Africa's official police missing persons facebook page. Only 2.5 thousand people follow it, despite the fact that we have 12 Million Facebook users in the RSA. That's only 0.02 %. I don't share their posts but I comment on them. I hope more people will follow official missing persons pages. I think social media can really help the police to track down missing people.

  7. Cathy
    March 17, 2015 at 5:05 pm

    Do some research!!! If the only thing you can find about a missing child is on facebook posts, it's probably bogus. Also, like this article said, if a child was taken by a parent, it may be to protect the child - you don't know! Another problem I see is people sharing missing child posts from 1 or 2 years ago where the child was found deceased. Do you think the parents want to continue to have those reminders floating around and possibly ending on their own newsfeed??? PLEASE don't just blindly repost something without checking it out!

  8. Brandon R
    November 11, 2013 at 3:41 am

    Very interesting article I had seen these post of missing children a few times in the past but recently I had not seen any however the few times I saw it in the past I often wondered if it was real but I wanted the person to be found if it was so I shared the posts. Its good to be aware of these scams now

    • Angela A
      November 13, 2013 at 6:11 am

      They're not ALL scams, I'm sure. But it's definitely worth trying to verify the story is real before you share. :)

  9. Deirdre
    November 3, 2013 at 2:15 am

    I see that I can't share this site on Fb, it only allows Twitter! How stupid is that????

    • Angela A
      November 3, 2013 at 6:18 am

      It's a little weird, but you have to click on the Facebook "Like" button. Then it gives you an option to share the article with a message.

  10. Jeppedy
    October 31, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    You know, I agree with Angela A's point... If it is legitimate, there's likely a legitimate post somewhere from law enforcement. I'm going with her approach. It doesn't mean we can't help with our powerful social networks, but it does help guide when we post. Thanks for the advice!

    • Angela A
      November 3, 2013 at 6:19 am

      Great! Glad to hear it. :)

  11. dragonmouth
    October 30, 2013 at 11:40 pm

    Great article, Angela. Not that I expect many to heed your warnings. Most people are just too arrogant in their belief that they are a good judge of character and can detect cow manure.

    One would think that Facebook and other social networks would play havoc with the witness protection programs. Or maybe they do but the authorities do not publicize it.

    • Angela A
      November 3, 2013 at 6:20 am

      Absolutely. I can imagine Facebook's face recognition tool gives away a lot of new identities.

    • dragonmouth
      November 3, 2013 at 12:47 pm

      That too. But I don't think that mobsters in witness protection would be willing to expose themselves by joining Facebook and posting family pictures online. Although one never knows.

      I was thinking more of "I'm looking for my long-lost family memeber, have you seen him?" or "My Dad walked out on us years ago, I would very much like to find him". Posts made by ex-associates of the mobster, looking to get even with him for his testimony.

    • Angela A
      November 7, 2013 at 7:15 am

      Scary thoughts Dragonmouth. I'm sure it has already happened and will happen again. Good reason not to hang out with mobsters in the first place, I think. :)

  12. Marvin D
    October 30, 2013 at 4:38 pm

    I never thought of this until I read the article. This is really something to think about. But yes, I totally agree with Jeppedy's comments. This is quite a lengthy comment, so please bear with me.

    An event happened in my family, two years ago. My daughter ran away from home. The moment we knew she ran away, this feeling of helplessness is too much that so many thoughts keeps running in our minds, the parents. What do we do? Endless questions. Endless tears. We can't just walk to the police station and report that our child is missing or the fact that she ran away. They would just blotter in the report but wouldn't move for the first 48 hrs. So, what to do. Firts instinct is to call up all her friends, her boyfriend, talk to the parents if somebody, anybody knew of anything. And your guess is right. Nobody knew.

    What I did next was to write her an email. Wrote an email to all her friends that I knew and the last thing was to use Facebook. The thing is, I didn't post it in her wall, her brother's wall, my wife's wall, nor my wall . To keep it private within the bounds of the family and friends, I sent a private message to all her friends, which they all shared privately to their friends and other friends who knew her. It was a very effective thing to do because they all replied and assured us that if they heard or knew something, they'd tell us right away. Luckily, my daughter replied to my email the next morning and replied too, to all the private messages I sent to her friends. End of the story. (Like and share! Just kidding.)

    Thanks for the article. This is an eyeopener article.

  13. Sharon
    October 30, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    I always try to look at the circumstances before sharing and I won't stop regardless. If this is the case in some I highly doubt that the majority are this way and I think not sharing is a lot more dangerous. I do think thought that you might have given some bad people a new idea though.

    • Aimee
      January 24, 2014 at 9:37 pm

      The reason this had to be addressed is because bad people have already had, and acted on, this idea.

  14. Jeppedy
    October 29, 2013 at 10:02 pm

    Yes, this type of thing is possible. And it's this same thinking that keeps a woman stranded at the side of a road in the rain without anyone stopping to help. What, then, are we to do if our child, or a friend's child, turns up missing? When is the last time you ran across a "Bona Fide" police-originated "missing person" post on Facebook? Are there NO missing persons in the world? I believe the overwhelming opportunity for good outweighs the chance for bad. As for me, I intend to continue sharing those posts.

    • Jim
      October 30, 2013 at 10:49 am

      I agree with Jeppedy.

    • dragonmouth
      October 30, 2013 at 11:33 pm

      "What, then, are we to do if our child, or a friend’s child, turns up missing?"
      YOU GO TO THE AUTHORITIES! What if some pervert sees the picture you posted of your, or your friend's child, finds the child first and then uses the child for his twisted purposes???!!! Did you ever think of THAT eventuality?!

      There is a saying that the way to hell is paved with good intentions. How are you going to feel when you find out that because of your good intentioned "help", somebody got killed or maimed? Can you live with that knowledge? Or are you one of those that would just shrug it off, glorying in the warm fuzzy feeling of having helped someone "in need"?

      You and 99.99% of Facebook users are not equiped to judge the veracity of the sob stories posted on Facebook. By trying to "help", you may be making matters worse. How many people every day are bilked out of thousands of dollars by scammers' sob stories? As bad as that is, they at least lose only money. With your "help", people could lose their lives.

      BTW - that woman standing on the side of the road in the rain, may have an accomplice hiding in the bushes, ready to rob you, car jack you or even kill you. It happens more often then you think.

    • Angela A
      October 31, 2013 at 9:27 am

      It's a tough one, yes. But most legitimately missing kids would have been reported to authorities, which means local police websites and local papers would no doubt have something noted somewhere, usually with a photo. If the "missing child" photo is being shared around with a link back to a reputable source, it's more likely to be legitimate.

      If the person sharing the photo can't offer a legitimate link, what does that say about the situation? To me, that says it's a little shady.

    • Katharine W
      November 3, 2013 at 4:33 am

      I don't think they're saying never to help. But a minute of googling can tell you whether someone is legitimately missing (as in the police are looking for them).

    • Katharine W
      November 3, 2013 at 4:40 am

      "To the people who see these stories every day, the people sharing them start to look like creepy tragedy-addicts who would rather click a few buttons than actually go out and help someone."

      That just described half my facebook feed. I see a lot of posts like this, not just about missing people but posts like "Like this post if you hate cancer" or "Like this post if you feel sad that this little girl got her puppy stolen". It's all a little weird to me. It does seem like emotional porn in a way, like the people who are doing it just can't cope with the fact that we don't live in a just world so they manufacture facebook crusades to feel like they have some power over it. I've tried to explain this to people before but I usually get accused of being "heartless" or something.

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