Over 38,000 Australians go missing every year. The impact of these events are profound with recent research from Missing Persons Australia showing that for every one person that goes missing, 12 others are directly affected, which is well over 500,000 people each year. The organization’s mission is to support those left behind and work to generate awareness of the people who are missing long-term.
After the first 48 hours, the chances of finding these missing persons diminishes significantly. Evidence and the public consciousness dries up and police are left with cold leads and nothing new to investigate. So they move on to other cases.
Missing Persons Advocacy Network’s brief focused on finding a way to generate new information, clues, and awareness in these cold cases. To do so, the company would provide hope and support to the families of the missing and raise awareness of each missing person’s circumstances around their disappearance.
Missing Persons Advocacy Network harnessed Facebook’s new facial recognition and auto tagging technology to search for missing persons. By creating Facebook profiles for the missing and building them a broad and global friend network, Missing Persons Advocacy Network formed a social search party that scoured the backgrounds of millions of photos and videos posted on Facebook, daily.
Not only do many people all live on their phones in the modern world, every moment of someone’s life is shared through a mobile devices. So turning the mobile phone into a search tool that's constantly on the lookout for missing persons allowed the company to create a net much bigger and wider than any mortal could ever achieve.
People are more connected than ever before, thanks to Facebook and social media; yet the way institutions search for missing persons hasn’t changed. In general, people rely on others to “look for” or help “spot” missing persons in public. This is why many searches always defaulted to posters, milk-cartons and other low-cost, high-awareness media.
The problem isn’t with the media, but the requirement of people to “look” for missing people and the reliance on others to find the proverbial needle in a haystack.
In an “always on” world, people bombarded with thousands of messages daily, and the chances of achieving cut-through is diminishing. So Missing Persons Advocacy Network found a way to utilize technology to let machines do the searching for everyone.
Using Facebook’s facial recognition, an AI engine that analyses every friend’s photo and video for someone’s face, the organization made joining the search for “missing persons” as simple as adding a friend on Facebook.
At a time when sentiment towards Facebook was at an all-time low, and the world was disgusted at Facebook's use of private data, Missing Persons Advocacy Network hijacked the conversation. And Missing Persons Advocacy Network hijacked some of Facebook's data too, in search for missing persons. This effort proved that the use of data on Facebook can be used for good.
To harness Facebook’s facial recognition technology, the organization created profiles for missing people and populated them with personal information and photos of each individual, and tagged each photo to train Facebook's facial recognition algorithm on what face to look for. A landing page (www.invisiblefriends.com.au) was established to explain how the tech and the initiative works, while also providing authenticity to the profiles. The Invisible Friends profiles were just one click away.
A large social and PR push was created and aimed to garner as many Facebook friends as possible from all corners of the globe, for each Invisible Friend profile.
The campaign launched in mid-April and is ongoing, with missing persons organizations around the world wanting to implement the program for some of their missing people.
The PR launch reached two thirds of all Australians and was covered by more than 30 countries around the world.
Only two weeks after launch, each Invisible Friends Facebook profile had more than triple the average amount of Facebook Friends and climbing — with a joined total of over 10,000 friends, searching through tens of millions of photos and videos posted by friends and friends of friends each day.
As of now, Invisible Friends is being rolled out by other missing persons organizations in the U.S., Britain, Europe, and Asia.
On the first day of the PR launch, based on the overwhelmingly positive public and media response, Facebook's Communication department reached out to MPAN offering praise on the success of the idea and offer help for the next phase of the roll out. Negotiations are underway.