Let me try to put into words the happenings of the 16 hours or so from last evening to this morning. (Note: I’m going to tell this story with the names changed because this isn’t only a story about the people that were “lost” and I don’t want to get bogged down in the specifics of who it is; it’s my story about a social media success. Please permit me this one little edit. Thank you.)
A little back story first: I have some friends, we’ll call them Jack and Jill, who are super cool people, friendly, out-going, helpful to everyone, always upbeat. And because of that, lots of people call them friends. LOTS of people. And they make new friends wherever they go. LOTS of new friends. In addition to their own little in-person charming selves, they each have FB pages, they have a blog (although I think Jill does most of the actual writing), they collaborate on a youtube channel with another friend, and they are frequent posters to all of these outlets.
So you can imagine what it was like when some of us started thinking that it’d been a “long time” between postings, keeping in mind that a “long time” is relative and different for everyone. To a bunch of us it felt like a “long time” had passed without a word for either of them when 11 days went by with nothing – no FB posts, no direct communication by text or message, no blog updates, no messages home to Jill’s mom (whom I’ll call Mom for the rest of the story) who hears from her far more often than any of the rest of us do. Add to this a number of other things such as: they were in a foreign country where English is not the “regular” language spoken; they had posted a pic of their vehicle stuck in the mud with a caption that included “…more important safety tips…on the way;” they often camped alone on the beach, hopping into a nearby town when they needed supplies (or wifi); and their last known location was in a city of 250,000+ with wifi available. Several of us, including Mom, had started posting messages on their FB page such as “where are you guys?” Maybe it was time to do something, whatever that means.
I’ve traveled a bit outside the US and so I know we have such things as American Embassies that will do what they can to help American citizens in other countries with things like lost passports, but what I wasn’t sure of was how much help they could and would provide when someone has stopped making contact with friends and family.
Ok, now fast forward to last night and the “doing something.”
I contacted Jill’s mom and asked if she minded if I did some asking around of my friends to see what they could come up with as far as what resources were available when trying to locate someone, and she said to go ahead – because she was very worried. I gave her the number for the American Embassy in the country her daughter was in, and she called, first getting a recording and then getting a person who gave her the number for the Embassy located closer to the area Jack and Jill were last seen in; she called and left them a message. Then, seeing as how she lives 3 time zones later than me, she went to bed, and I decided to keep up with the inquiries on my own.
The first message went to a friend who lives in the general area where Jack and Jill were last seen in, asking if she knew of anything that might help Mom locate her daughter and son-in-law. She said she’d ask her friends and get back to me.
Next, I posted a question on a Facebook page I belong to that is an information forum for the area my friends were last seen in; my question was: what does one do when one’s friends and/or family have gone dark and may be missing. Overwhelmingly, the answer from the FB forum readers was to call the American Embassy immediately on their emergency number and to post photos and information about the two in a post that could be shared by the FB group’s community. Since Jill’s mom was already in bed, the Embassy was going to have to wait until the morning but I could go ahead and do the photo and information posting.
Clipping together some pics from their blog and FB pages, I added ages and last known location as well as some other info, and posted it.
And sat back to wait for whatever would come next.
Within an hour, it had been shared 450 times. Two people (two people!) indicated that they had seen them recently, as in, just the day before. One of the persons was already gone from the area but said she would contact the son of the restaurant owner near where they were camped and have him go contact them if they were still there. The other was a man who said they’d been camping nearby for two days and he would go tell them “right now.”
That was almost 9 PM last night.
As anyone knows, sometimes the interpretation of “right now” is different than our own interpretation. To me it means, right now. As in right now! As in, I’m on my way to do it right now! To someone else, it might mean in an hour, tomorrow, or next week. For the person who said he’d go “right now,” it meant tomorrow morning. Don’t get me wrong here – I think it’s okay that we each have our own interpretations of things; it reminds us that we’re all different, we’re all correct in our own way, and that sometimes we just need to clarify when something is different than our own interpretation.
But now I’m getting ahead of my story! Let me back up.
People continued to share the post, as well as comment with ideas on what to do next. Some shared ways they kept in touch when they were in out-of-the-way areas. Some shared prayers and concerns. Others shared their hope for finding them safe. A couple of people said they were heading that way soon and would be on the lookout for them or that they were in the area and would keep their eyes open. Only one person thought enough of himself to rag on me and others for trying to locate our friends. (There’s always one, isn’t there?) In another hour, the post had been shared a total of 543 times. Wow! I was super impressed with the people on this forum; there are 14,000+ members and to have so many of them step up and share was just overwhelming for me. Being 2,000 miles away lent a kind of impotency to how I felt about trying to locate my friends from so far away but here was this large group of people who didn’t even know them who was willing to go out of their way to help! (In all, the post with their pics and info was shared more than 1,300 times before Mom had confirmation that they were okay. All I can say to that is Wow!)
Over the next couple of hours, I responded to comments, answered questions, and got feedback on what to do next, and then after a final late-night update message to Jill’s mom, I finally went to bed myself. The morning would come soon enough and then we could take the next step, whatever that was.
I awoke to a message from Jill’s mom that the guy at the campground had contacted her and said they were safe, telling her he didn’t want to wake them up because they were sleeping. I messaged her back to tell him to get them up, that she needed to hear their voices to confirm that they were okay and that everything was fine. About 45 minutes later, she had her phone call – Jack and Jill were safe and all was well.
This story is about social media. It’s about people caring for other people, whether they know them or not. It’s about the range that social media has to get a communication out there, and how quickly that can be done. It’s about using social media to help find someone “lost” in another country. It’s about the overwhelming reach we have now on Planet Earth to impact one another, to share with each other, to know what’s happening the instant that it happens even when it’s 2,000 miles or more away. I’m sure it’s about some other things, too, but right now, I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who had a part in the little drama that filled some our lives last night and early this morning, thank you to the internet, to Facebook, to online forums, to text messaging, to email communications. We live in a far different world than we’ve ever lived in before, where anything we want to know about everything is available virtually all the time, and while it can be frustrating and feel like we’re on overload sometimes, it can also be something that is good. No, make that, sometimes it’s awesome 😀
As my friend (the first one I messaged) said when Jack and Jill were located: “Thank goodness we all look out for each other! It’s a good time to remind folks – travel safe! Let someone know where you are, check in on designated days, share your itinerary far and wide, keep emergency information on you at all times, be careful who you “befriend,” not everyone can be trusted, and the list goes on. And mostly – use common sense!!!!! Be well and enjoy your travels my FB friends!!!!!”
I agree with her.
I love you all, my readers! Please take care of each other!
Don’t you just love happy endings? I do!
* * * * * *
American Embassies can and do help; they even have a page on their website set up for missing persons in the country you’re inquiring about. Click here to see the list of countries that have specific pages for missing persons. Click here for the main US Embassy website.