The Missing Americans Project

Looking for People and Answers

Power of Twitter: Father's Plea to Help Find Son Goes Viral Globally

A UK Dad whose eight-month-old son was kidnapped has launched a desperate plea for help on Twitter after busy police ignored his plight, according to this article in the Daily Mail Online. Martin Perry, 32, made the anxious appeal via the micro-blogging site after Tristan was snatched from a nursery near Bangkok, Thailand, nearly two months ago Mr. Perry's story has appeared on The Missing American's Project, and I have passed it along more broadly through my Facebook network. Mr. Perry and I also have chatted online and I have given his information to other missing-persons organizations and to friends of mine in Thailand and elsewhere in Asia.

The Mail article quotes Mr. Perry thus: "I was looking for help from some local friends, but was amazed when I started getting contacted by people from across the globe."

Two points stand out for me in Mr. Perry's story:

  • The power of social media to build awareness of issues that governments and mainstream media choose to ignore.
  • The absolute necessity for Western ex-pats, tourists, and business travelers to understand the culture in the places they visit or choose to live.

The Missing Americans Project is a classic example of the first point. When my brother Joe disappeared from Isla de Roatan, Honduras, a little more than a year ago, the U.S. State Department would have been content to ignore my family's pleas for assistance. It was only after many people -- informed of our situation through Facebook and Twitter -- began contacting their congresspeople and demanding action that we were able to successfully obtain a U.S. military search & rescue operation -- 72 hours too late to be effective, but it's a start. After a year, mainstream media are beginning to take an interest, and once they do I have no doubt that there will be a growing snowball effect that will greatly assist our efforts at advocacy for the families of the missing and at lobbying for changes in (one might more accurately say "establishment of") standard operating procedures in cases of Americans who disappear or otherwise get into trouble outside their borders.

At first, we thought we were dealing with a primarily U.S. problem -- however, as we began to work with more families in our situation, we quickly learned that institutional indifference to the plight of missing persons (especially, adult males) is the global norm, not the exception. This must and will change, and when it does, it will be due in large part to the influence of social media.

The second point -- the need to understand the culture within which you are traveling or choose to live -- cannot be overstated. I was shocked and, to be honest, a bit skeptical about the Perrys' story when I first learned of it. I forwarded it to my friend Natalie, who lives in Thailand now and has lived all over Southeat Asia, and her response was, in effect, "Oh, yeah, happens all the time. Thai families see Western husbands as an ATM." I won't divulge the content of my conversations with Mr. Perry, but I will say that it is clear that when he decided to start a family with a Thai woman in Thailand he was unaware of this simple cultural fact. For more information on this, just read the conversation going on within the "Comments" on the Mail article.

How many of our missing persons are missing because they became too comfortable too quickly in cultures they did not understand? How many families are suffering now because their loved ones did not take the time or make the effort to become better informed about the political and cultural contexts in which they would be traveling?

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