As a social media safety advocate, I have had the honour of presenting to over 275,000 junior and senior high school students from across Canada and the United States. During my travels, I encourage teens to follow me on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/The-White-Hatter-Darren-Laur-136487353183161/. To date, I have just over 21,000 Facebook followers, the majority of whom are tweens and teens. This is a significant online youth resource that I constantly consult with to help me learn what is going on in their digital lives, so that I stay current in my social media advocacy.
On Tuesday, May 31st at about 7 a.m., I received a Facebook message from a parent who heard me speak in the past who was seeking my assistance with a very serious situation: her friend’s 13-year-old daughter had been missing for just about 24 hours. Although police were involved in this case, there were no sightings or leads as to this teen girl’s disappearance, other than the fact she may have voluntarily run away from home for some unknown reason. Given my background as a police officer (39 years), an online investigator, and a social media advocate for teens, the parent who connected with me believed that I could be of some assistance in locating the missing teen.
Without question, I volunteered my services to this important cause and immediately decided to turn to my Facebook followers who number over 21,000. Since they are mostly teens themselves, I asked them to help me in locating this missing young girl. If there is one thing that I have learned in all of my experience in advocacy with teens, it is that most will come to the aid of another teen when needed. Online teens have become “digital first responders” and this is a very welcomed online cultural change! They are becoming “up-standers” rather than “by-standers.”
As a police officer, I learned that when investigating missing teen cases oftentimes those who run away from home would still connect with their friends through social media. If, as believed, this was a runaway incident rather than an abduction, I was betting that this missing teen would reach out to her friends via her social networks. It should be noted that parents and friends of the family had attempted to reach out on social media to this missing teen without any success. This is not surprising, considering that the runaway often does not want to be found by their family.
At 7:20 a.m., I posted the “who, what, and where” of this missing teen case to my Facebook page, and within hours it had reached over 34,000 people and had been shared by 778 followers. In this posting, I requested that if anyone had any information on this teen’s location to contact police immediately, or send me a private message.
At 8:53 a.m., I received a private message from a teen who knew the missing girl. After reading the message on Facebook, this teen began to play detective, and was able to open source her missing friend’s social networks where she learned that her friend had been speaking with another teen male in another city on Vancouver Island. This teen then connected with this male who advised that he had just spoken to the missing, and was about to meet her at a mall in his town. It was unknown to this teen male that this young girl had actually run away from home, and that no one knew where she was. Upon learning this fact, this male teen advised that he would ensure that he got her to safety and would escort her to his school to ensure police attendance. It should also be noted that this teen male went the extra mile and took a picture of himself and the missing to prove it was her and that he was going to get her to safety.
As this was happening real-time, I was also updating the missing parents via phone and email, and they were then also passing this onto the RCMP. At 9:30 a.m. the teen male sent a picture of himself and the missing teen, at which time the RCMP were dispatched to his school where the teen was safely recovered.
In two hours, by crowd sourcing my 21,000 followers we, as a team, were able to do what the police could not do through traditional investigative processes: locate and recover a 13-year-old old run-away. This is the power of social media, and this is the power of engaging teens to help us adults when appropriate and reasonable to do so.
I simply quarterbacked this crowd sourcing response. The real thanks goes to those teens who took action to ensure that the missing person was recovered safely, all of whom have heard me present at their schools. THANK YOU. You guys ROCK and I want to welcome you to The White Hatter Club!
Digital Food For Thought