I'm suspicious about the motive behind Facebook missing person posts
June 8, 2017 1:45 PM   Subscribe

Multiple White, conservative acquaintances of mine share various local news sites'alerts about missing Black children & adults. Why?

What drives people to post alerts about missing children/persons from all over the country? I feel like there is some message behind this, or some blogger or organization promoting it. Several people I'm connected to post links to TV news pages in different cities all day, linking stories about missing persons. They post the same ones: person A shares a link to city x's Fox affiliate with a story about John Smith, who is missing. 20 minutes later person B does it. Neither lives in city X. Four hours later it's different name in city Y. They aren't linking to an aggregator, but it seems remarkable they follow the ABC station in Detroit and the Fox affiliate in Dallas when they aren't in these places.

I feel like it's notable that the missing persons are always Black. I'm developing conspiracy theories about these posts serving either to mean "I'm not racist, see, I was worried about this stranger across the country" or to subtly influence opinion about risk/danger/disorganization in Black communities. Is there some source pushing this content for political reasons or am I too distrusting/suspicious?
posted by OrangeVelour to Human Relations (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
You are overthinking this. Social media loves 'oh no' panic stories.
posted by so fucking future at 1:54 PM on June 8, 2017 [8 favorites]


I feel like it's notable that the missing persons are always Black. I'm developing conspiracy theories about these posts serving either to mean "I'm not racist, see, I was worried about this stranger across the country" or to subtly influence opinion about risk/danger/disorganization in Black communities.

I suspect the opposite. Black and Latino missing children get far less press than white ones. As awareness of this imbalance has grown, I think more progressive media sharers try to do a small bit to make sure non-white children get the national missing children press that cute white kids get.

There are a lot of stats about this if you'd like to find out more.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:05 PM on June 8, 2017 [15 favorites]


What drives people to post alerts about missing children/persons from all over the country?

To alert their friends and family that live in those areas to be on the lookout?
posted by puritycontrol at 2:13 PM on June 8, 2017 [14 favorites]


The only person I know who does this is my wife's grandmother, and that's because a) she really is a kind, sweet-hearted person whom I believe is actually concerned about missing children, and b) because she shares a lot of FB posts (it's not uncommon for her to share posts from alumni associations of schools that none of her children, grandchildren, or in-laws attended).

Based on b), what I suspect is happening is this:

-Station A posts a missing person alert.
-Person B follows station A and shares the post.
-Person C follows person B and shares the original post.
-Person D follows person C and shares the original post.

So now you're several degrees removed from the original post, but there's a clear trail on how you got there. It's the six degrees of separation idea/"the social graph" as FB calls it. I bet any given FB user is no more than three or four people away from any MSM outlet in the country.
posted by kevinbelt at 2:15 PM on June 8, 2017 [4 favorites]


There's a Christian element to this. These posts are usually full of comments that are praying for the child's return -- not just saying so, but reciting a prayer right there -- and the sharers may honestly believe that they are helping do God's work. It gets the word out, anyway.

Additionally, a person can support policies that effectively impoverish POC children and get them killed, and yet not want to see these children die, because they don't actually understand the implications of the former. A person who often acts in racist ways is not necessarily a person of so much irredeemable malevolence as that.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:30 PM on June 8, 2017 [30 favorites]


Conservative Trump supporters or just conservative? If they are Trump supporters, then I agree it might be a way for them to reassure themselves and others that, see, not all Trump supporters are racist. This may or may not be unconscious.

(Not saying all Trump supporters are racist, but they certainly are okay enough with racism to ignore it in a candidate)
posted by blackzinfandel at 2:34 PM on June 8, 2017 [1 favorite]


Do these folks ever post anything substantive (e.g. their own thoughts on an issue, or even family picnic photos)? Or do they just share content from others? I think older people do a lot of fairly mindless clicking - it's an easy thing to do that costs them nothing. I think it's probably confirmation bias that they're all Black. Either they're not seeing alerts about white people, or you're not noticing those shares.

If I know I have a bunch of friends/followers in City X, even if I've never been there, I'll share a missing person/lost dog post because they can spread it to all the people they know in City X.
posted by AFABulous at 3:14 PM on June 8, 2017


Is there some source pushing this content for political reasons or am I too distrusting/suspicious?

I haven't seen these, but your account makes me pretty suspicious too.

Would you say the photos themselves tend to portray racist stereotypes about black people?

People can't get away with posting photos saying 'hey look at this [offensive term] -- can you believe that?', but it's much harder to question a photo of a missing person.

But if you decide something like that could be going on, I think it would be worth attempting to bring it to Facebook's attention.
posted by jamjam at 4:03 PM on June 8, 2017


Perhaps it is a veiled concern about "black on black" crime.
posted by oceano at 6:00 PM on June 8, 2017 [4 favorites]


I see a lot of these posts, too, but most of the people posting them on my feed are black (which is probably because a lot of my Facebook friends are black, not because only black people post them or something).

There are some very active, very well organized groups, like the Black and Missing Foundation, that seek to raise awareness of missing black people (and sometimes specifically children of color), because they generally get less media coverage than their white counterparts.

Your friends are probably not linked to an aggregator directly, and are just passing along the missing child posts that show up on their own feeds, but there are legitimate aggregators of these stories (I mean orgs like Black and Missing), and that's probably where the information is coming from originally.
posted by rue72 at 4:43 AM on June 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


I see the same thing from white conservative friends, and I agree that it's about prayer - the idea is they see it and share it, but also say a prayer for the missing kid. Then if the missing kid is found, they feel it must be because of their prayers, so are more likely to share again because it clearly "worked".
posted by corb at 5:57 AM on June 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


I see a lot of these on my feed but haven't noticed any pattern in color/ethnicity/location. I concur with the folks above that most people are probably just trying to do something that makes them feel good, something they think is putting some good in the world.

However, I am suspicious of the motive, too, but for a different reason: unless I am no more than 3 degrees removed from the original poster or missing person, I won't share these because I have no way of knowing if the person is really missing or has a legitimate reason to be estranged from the person searching for them. Every time I see these I get kinda terrified thinking about what could have happened if Facebook had been a thing when my mom & I had to sneakily leave her abusive husband, and a bunch of truly well-meaning folks propagated "My wife and stepdaughter are missing! Please let me know if you have any information about them!' posts from him.
posted by rhiannonstone at 9:42 AM on June 10, 2017


Earlier this year there was a subset of far-right/alt-right folks who believed that missing Black children (particularly in DC) were connected to Pizzagate. I wouldn't be surprised if there are still conspiracy theorists who think so. But yeah, what's more likely is your FB friends are trying to demonstrate how Jesus-y they are.
posted by cowboy_sally at 12:00 PM on June 10, 2017 [2 favorites]


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