Twitter Helps Find Missing Teen in "Amber Alert"

Last Updated Apr 19, 2009 2:14 AM EDT

Four days after she went missing, a 14-year-old Denver girl, Jennifer Frisina, was found safe at a friend's house and returned to her family this week, largely due to a massive organizing effort by various people around the country who heard about the case and sent out alarms via Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites.

Much of the credit goes to a reporter for the online Denver Examiner, Mari Kurisato, whose persistent reporting about the case alerted people with large followings on Twitter to help find the girl.

The following "Amber Alert" had been issued by the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Department:
Jennifer Frisina was last seen on Saturday 4/11/09 around 5:00 pm wearing a black zip up hoodie, black pants and white sneakers. She is 5'5" and around 150 lbs, brown hair, brown eyes. Any information on her whereabouts can be called into the Arapahoe County Sheriff's office or Bruce Isaccson. Arapahoe County Sheriff's office 303-874-4022. The Missing Children's Taskforce (720-641-6432) is also working on this case as well as the Nation Center For Missing and Exploited Children. (1-800-the-LOST 1-800-843-5678)
Among those who jumped into action on Twitter to help find the girl was The Expert, who has over 10,000 followers. He, and other prominent Twitterers spread the word far and wide quickly. Others included @SoulGeek,@BuzzEdition, @AbsolutelyTrue, @AlohaArleen , @NashvilleDebbi, and @Zaibatsu.

This is not the first example of collaborative social action by online communities. Lives were saved in those awful Australian fires thanks to Twitter, for example.

Thus, anyone who still dismisses Twitter as a lightweight player in the media space should ask themselves: What traditional media channel could have this kind of impact on a missing child? TV, obviously, when it gets involved, often can help locate a missing child.

But it would be hard to find a television channel with the immediacy and reach of Twitter or Facebook. Plus, the growth curve for Twitter, as we have been noting, is so steep that it could easily be described as the emergency broadcast channel of choice of the future, starting.. now.

  • David Weir

    David Weir is a veteran journalist who has worked at Rolling Stone, California, Mother Jones, Business 2.0, SunDance, the Stanford Social Innovation Review, MyWire, 7x7, and the Center for Investigative Reporting, which he cofounded in 1977. He’s also been a content executive at KQED, Wired Digital, Salon.com, and Excite@Home. David has published hundreds of articles and three books,including "Raising Hell: How the Center for Investigative Reporting Gets Its Story," and has been teaching journalism for more than 20 years at U.C. Berkeley, San Francisco State University, and Stanford.