Sharing photos and notices of missing persons—especially children—on Facebook has become second nature to many users on the social media platform. It almost feels like a civic duty, and didn’t milk cartons use to have pictures of missing kids on them, anyway?
It’s actually not a good idea to share these pictures, say police. Facebook users who share pictures of missing persons may be doing more harm than good, they warn.
In a public statement (via The Sun) on Facebook earlier this March, the Kindersley Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Canada warned that users who publicize images of missing children may be unwittingly helping kidnappers, abusers and pedophiles to cover their tracks or cause further harm to child victims.
“Sometimes the missing children in the posts that you share are not actually missing,” they wrote. “They may actually be hiding for their own safety. For example—a parent who has been forbidden any access to their children through a court order might put their children’s photos on Facebook and claim them as missing. The other parent and child may be in hiding for their own protection.”
“By sharing these photos, you may be putting a life at risk,” they said, noting that pictures and notices of supposedly “missing” individuals are sometimes posted by people with court orders against them, who are crowdsourcing their abuse.
“Always check the source of the photo you are sharing,” added the RCMP. “If the post wasn’t originated from a confirmed police source, or comes with a link to a reputable newspaper or media outlet showing that the police are actively searching, then it is likely not legitimate.”
In other words, if you share a photo, make sure it’s from a legitimate source and not from an estranged parent or a stalker with a restraining order against them.