Amber Alerts On Cell Phones: Backlash Coming?
Scared by that Amber Alert earlier this week? You weren’t alone.
On Monday night, many Bay Area residents were jolted by a loud Amber Alert on their cell phones. Authorities issued the statewide alert, about a child abduction in San Diego, because they thought the kidnapper might be heading north.
Though the new system is used only in emergencies – and this certainly was one – the alerts apparently caused fear and confusion among recipients. Some are wondering if this will create a backlash.
According to an NPR report today by Steve Henn, a firm that analyzes Twitter traffic saw a spike in tweets containing the phrase “Amber Alert” in the hours immediately after the alert went out across California. “The sentiment of the overall tweets was definitely negative,” said the firm’s representative. More than 21,000 tweets used the phrase “Amber Alert” and the word “scared.” “OMFG” came up more than once, and the word “annoying” more than 1,700 times.
Henn’s report notes that the alerts, at least for now, are limited to 90 characters, with no photos, phone numbers or links allowed. The lack of information could contribute to the confusion and annoyance, and lead to opting out. As our Tuesday post on Newsfix pointed out, opting out of the alerts is easy — but no one involved wants that to happen.
“What we don’t want to see is a car-alarm syndrome where people disregard the alerts, or worse, they opt out,” said Brian Josef of CTIA, the wireless industry’s lobbying association in Washington.
“When a child has been abducted, it is like trying to find a needle in a haystack,” says Robert Hoever of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, who is asking for alerts that have more useful information. “The more eyes and ears we have out there searching for the child, the smaller the haystack becomes, and the better our chances are of safely rescuing that child.”