Morals, mobiles, and mandatory alerts: A study of Amber Alerts and Canada’s emergency alert system

Miss Monique Lynn1

1University Of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

A rising number of disasters and critical events have led governments worldwide to advance emergency alert systems to better inform the public during urgent crises. In 2018, the Canadian Government in collaboration with broadcasting and wireless service industries incorporated wireless technology into their emergency communication system, allowing authorities to mass distribute emergency notifications to mobile phones. Amber Alerts were included in this system, making Canada the first nation to send non-optional Amber Alerts to citizens on their private communication devices. Amber Alerts are issued when a child has been abducted or is believed to be in imminent danger, and seek to gain the public’s help in recovery efforts. Previously speculated as enjoying widespread community support, the expansion of Amber Alerts into an involuntary notification system has potentially made them more visible to both critics and advocates. This project applies Moral Foundations Theory to understand the Canadian public’s response to mobile Amber Alerts. A nationwide survey examines broad attitude patterns in the public, with Reddit data used to investigate the expression of these in response to real events and the views of others. Understanding community responses to this system is critical as other countries, including Australia, continue to adopt international approaches and technology for issuing Amber Alerts. Through exploring the moral underpinnings of attitudes towards this system, this project seeks to investigate whether the discourse that “everything” should be done to save a child’s life prevails in the face of resistance to intrusive systems and potentially ineffective crime control initiatives.


Monique Lynn is a PhD candidate in the School of Social Science at the University of Queensland. Her research interests include public responses to crime and crime control, and particularly the expression of these on social media and online platforms. She completed a dual degree in Arts/Human Services and has a First-Class Honours in Criminology. Monique received the John Braithwaite Prize in Criminology in 2015 and currently teaches theoretical criminology. Her PhD project investigates Canadians’ responses to the recently introduced wireless emergency alert network, and specifically the inclusion of Amber Alerts as part of this mandatory notification system.


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