04/12/2013 11:44 am ET Updated Jun 12, 2013

Rescued on Facebook

Forget social networking, Facebook has become a veritable giant in the world of advertising, corporate marketing, event promotion and even celebrity worship. Drawing on its massive appeal and far-reaching audience, Facebook pioneered the transformation of social media into a one-stop-shop communication forum, where users explore and exchange information at a ceaseless pace. With such rapid and expansive opportunities for interchanging information, it stands to reason that Facebook users found yet another forum for the social utility- an aid to law enforcement and a toll for all sorts of investigations.

For years, users have turned to Facebook in a crisis. They post updates about personal disasters in real-time, exchange loving tributes to lost friends and family members, investigate targets of private investigations and post the images of missing loved ones. The most recent story added to the growing list of social media and law enforcement collaborations led to the identification of an abandoned Marietta, GA toddler with the help of photograph postings and shares that spread like wildfire on social media websites.

With increasing success, agencies rely on Facebook and similar platforms to spread the word about missing person cases. Since 2005, The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that social media played a key role in the recovery and conclusion efforts of 98.5 percent of cases through AMBER alerts, leading to 1,430 out of 1,451 children being found from AMBER notifications that occurred between 2005 and 2009.

Law enforcement agencies are not alone in their recognition of social media as a powerful tool for criminal investigation and missing person cases. From missing children and siblings to long-lost family members, users take to Facebook to post images and create profiles in hopes of finding loved ones. Unfortunately, the uncontrolled distribution of these images can lead to misinformation. For example, the Facebook page for a missing Australian woman was closed after receiving too many false reports and tips resulting in law enforcement confusion.

Unquestionably, social media provides comfort in a crisis. It assists families in spreading the word about missing loved ones and may even attract media attention and additional police support. It also provides a valuable service to law enforcement agencies looking to find individuals and investigate criminal activities. As with any other social media post, users should review missing person posts with caution. Individual cases may easily be confirmed through police agencies or simple Internet searches and missing person sites avoided when there is no connection or recognition of the individual. Ultimately, it never hurts to take a look at the missing person post that works its way onto a recent News Feed. It may reunite a family or even save a life.