Last year, the Huffington Post saved my daughter's life.
Late last year, my 13-year-old daughter ran away. It was only through a grassroots social media campaign and an article in the Huffington Post that my family was able to garner enough attention to find her.
When my daughter went missing, I needed to act -- I couldn't just sit by the phone and wait. So I turned to Facebook. And Twitter. And LinkedIn. And email. And anything else I could think of. Before my daughter was returned home safely, more than 4,000 people shared my story. It was because of all that help that the Huffington Post heard about our family. And it was because of the Huffington Post that local New York City media picked up our plea, which was then seen by the neighbor of the man who was holding my daughter. It's a long chain, but each link was critical in finding my daughter.
Every year, 1.6 million kids run away from home. Parents of these runaways have to deal with feelings of terror mixed with helplessness. After I saw how much social media helped my wife and me, I founded Find Your Missing Child to teach parents how to use social media to help bring their children home. Over the past several months, we've created a definitive guide to social media, empowering the parents of missing kids to amplify their voices and engage their communities. We are helping the missing persons community and law enforcement agencies around the country to bring kids home safely and more quickly.
Children disappear more frequently than most people realize -- and, in fact, more often than what shows up in missing children statistics -- so parents should be able to take some little comfort in the fact that they are not alone. So much can still be done to teach parents and help them find (and help) their kids. In the coming year, we want to do more. We're planning a Spanish translation of our guide, creating a quick reference for parents in the early hours of a crisis, and developing an app to streamline the communication process and boost the power of social media efforts.
Find Your Missing Child is also educating parents and the missing children community about using the Internet in a positive way. For so many years, predators have used social media to harm our children online but the tools the Internet offers can be just as powerful for parents. The Internet is today's neighborhood. Our kids are hanging out with their friends, shopping and listening to music online -- and we should parent just as we would if they were doing that on the front stoop. It's ok to ask your kid who they are talking to and what they're up to; you are their parent.
More than 4,000 people helped me find my daughter. With Find Your Missing Child, we're already paying that forward. But there is so much more that can be done: videos, digital apps, translations, outreach programs, education, and deeper integration with the national missing children's community. Our goal is simple: to help families use social media to find their children and be the best possible parents. With your help, we can make that happen.
For more information about Find Your Missing Child, visit www.findyourmissingchild.org.
Follow Tony Loftis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/FindYourKid