How Friday’s AMBER Alert unfolded on Twitter

On Friday afternoon, RCMP issued an AMBER Alert for 12-year-old Jacob Telford. Thankfully, he was found “in good condition” after just a few hours. For a while that evening, it seemed like every tweet in Edmonton was related to the incident. At one point during the evening, @tkoriordan said “So I’ve been away from Twitter all day. Somebody want to fill me in on what I missed?” to which @Kiri_W replied “About a billion amber alert retweets.” Curiosity got the better of me, so I looked at the data to see how the AMBER Alert unfolded on Twitter.

Here are the first four tweets that appeared:

Just heard about amber alert, young boy from #shpk, check out alert and key an eye out

1st time I have hear the emerg broadcast have a real emerg. Its ano amber alert for a little boy missing from Sherwood Park

Amber Alert in #YEG child abducted in #sherwoodpark. #Edmonton #AMBERALERT!

AMBER ALERT: 12-year-old Jacob Telford taken from Sherwood Park last night – White 2002 Ford Taurus – BC Plate: V2P4J3

Actually, Rob McAnally had one up before the main CTV Edmonton account did, but it seems that tweet has since been deleted. CTV posted the first link to a new story at 2:29 PM (that link has since been clicked over 1000 times).

From Matthew’s first tweet at 2:11:17 PM until 7:23:43 PM when Jeremy Lye’s tweet appeared declaring that the AMBER Alert had been cancelled (the first to do so), a total of 958 tweets were posted (mentioning either the AMBER Alert or Jacob Telford). That works out to just over 3 tweets per minute (in the first hour, it was nearly 7 tweets per minute). By 5 PM the next day, the total number of related tweets had grown slightly to 1126.

Of those, 983 were retweets. Here’s what the retweets looked like:

They weren’t quite the first to tweet the start or end of the AMBER Alert (they were about six minutes behind both times), but CTV Edmonton was definitely the most visible account to do so, and that is reflected in the number of retweets they received.

In total, 710 different Twitter users tweeted (or retweeted) about the incident. Just less than half were located in the Edmonton area, while some were as far away as Brazil, Russia, and Kuwait (based on the location in their profiles). I suppose there’s always a chance that their retweets could have helped (maybe they have followers in Canada) but I still have to wonder why someone who is so far away would tweet about something like this. Is it because it’s easy to click the retweet button? Is it because we all like to feel as though we’re helping? I’m not sure.

If you add up the number of followers those 710 users have, you get a potential reach of more than 288,000 users. That’s not accounting for overlap though, so the actual number is probably quite a bit less. And not all of those users will have been online to see the tweets. Still, there’s no question that the AMBER Alert was seen far and wide on Friday.

Here’s what I found interesting about all of this:

  • 85% of all the tweets posted about the incident appeared before we knew the boy was safe
  • 60% of all the tweets posted about the incident were simply retweets of CTV Edmonton’s tweets
  • It took less than 20 minutes for the first news story link to appear
  • After 24 hours, almost no one was tweeting about it anymore

You can learn more about the AMBER Alert Program here.