A baby and its toy in Tramore, County Waterford, via the National Library of Ireland
Ten-month-old Kitty Scott had a habit of throwing things around, as many babies do. That was the first problem. Kitty had a beloved stuffed toy, a small white fleece animal with floppy ears, named Bunny, which acted as the child’s comforter.
During a trip to a supermarket in the Scottish town of Cambuslang, six miles outside the city center of Glasgow, Kitty was clutching Bunny and throwing her around, as she was wont to do. The second problem — one that would result in sleepless nights — was that her father, Martin, was focused on completing his supermarket shopping list. With an older child in tow, and on their way back from school, there were plenty of things to worry about.
And so speechless Kitty and her harassed father completed their food shopping and left the supermarket smaller in number than they’d entered. Bunny was missing. When the family returned to their home and all was reckoned for, Martin had bad news: he couldn’t find Bunny.
“As you can imagine, not having Bunny was quite upsetting for her,” explains Martin’s wife, Jen Scott. “She was only 10 months old at the time. It’s awful. You know, worse things happen at sea, but as a parent with a child who has a comfort blanket, anything that can potentially destroy sleep is never a good thing.”
Kitty is not the first young child to misplace her favorite toy, and many parents know the emotional bond that exists between a young child and their closest friend, even if it is soft felt and stuffing. “It’s an emotional support for them in new situations,” says Jen Scott. “They’ve got a little thing that gives them extra confidence. All my children have had one and they’ve all still got them, and I was devastated when Kitty disappeared because I want to have them all for when they’re older. I’m sentimental that way.”
Scott still has her favorite childhood stuffed toy, a dog named Droopy given to her by her elder brother when she was six. “I remember being so chuffed when he gave it to me, because he was 18 months older than me and teased me my entire life, and I was very touched that he got me this teddy. My gran helped him wrap it because he couldn’t do it himself.”
Luckily, thanks to the everything-and-anything nature of the Internet, there’s a Web site, and a person behind it, that aims to help those frazzled parents whose children have been separated from their closest friends.1
Calling all toy cars
Teddy Bear Lost and Found makes itself available as a Facebook group, Pinterest board, and Twitter account. The person behind the social media accounts prefers to remain anonymous, using the nom de plume Ted E Bear.
The secrecy “gives me some distance from it all as people are often quite upset when they post their or their child’s lost teddies,” she writes via email. Staying unknown prevents parents from having a personal point of contact, and prevents Ted from some of the emotional distress that comes if a reunion between a child and their bear is not possible. (All that she’s willing to disclose about herself is that she works in stop-motion animation; the time stamps on her email indicate that while talking to me she was based in the Pacific time zone.)
Teddy Bear Lost and Found was set up in September 2012 when a friend’s child lost their bear. Ted set up the Facebook page for that single lost teddy, and a frazzled parent put out a plea for a child’s missing toy on the site. “Shortly thereafter I found I had a Lost and Found group on my hands,” Ted writes. It was a complete accident that the task of acting as an online bulletin board fell to her, but she has taken up the challenge.
The social network groups Ted E Bear oversees are different from the other lost-and-found bear sites in that there is an active engagement with the community: tweets, Facebook posts, and Pinterest pins are repeated throughout the day in an attempt to jog people’s memories.
“I’d love to set up a Web page of some sort where people could post their own lost-and-found teddies themselves, but then it would just be like the sites already out there that don’t get shared socially,” Ted writes.
All told, more than 700 teddy bears have been listed on Teddy Bear Lost and Found, and around 100 of those have been reunited with their owners. “It’s absolutely delightful to see the happy faces in photos the parents sometimes post after a reunion; just priceless,” Ted says.
Kitty Scott was one of the lucky ones reunited with her toy. Twenty-four hours after losing Bunny, Scott posted her plea on Teddy Bear Lost and Found’s Facebook group. Ted did the rest, cross-posting it to Twitter and Pinterest. Bunny took up a place in the great ranks of the lost, and the hunt began.
What social media manages to do is corral manpower in a way that wouldn’t be possible offline. Scott could have – and did – ask family members to keep their eyes peeled for any sightings of Bunny, and she went to the supermarket where her husband thought the stuffed toy had been lost. But both trails quickly ran cold, and were always limited in their scope.
Calling on other social circles, including those of strangers, increases a search’s reach exponentially. And ultimately, it was getting the information that Kitty Scott’s Bunny was missing in front of more eyes that sparked a response. In fact, it sparked many responses – and some cold leads.
A couple of people posted on Teddy Bear Lost and Found’s Facebook page saying they had seen Bunny outside of Morrisons, the supermarket. Scott dispatched her husband to investigate, but what he found wasn’t a bunny but a giraffe.
“I was gutted,” Scott says. “Then I started thinking my niece has a giraffe.” A text was sent to family members: it turned out that Scott’s niece Amelia had been at the supermarket that day, and had lost her plush giraffe.
Scott wasn’t unhappy for long, though. The next day a reader sent Scott a message: “my friend works in Morrisons; she has your bunny in her office.” An email from the supermarket worker followed, and Scott went to pick her up.
“God love them, they’d had Bunny dry-cleaned for us. I think she had been kicked under one of the shelving units, and got filthy.”
Scott posted a photo of Kitty’s reunion with her Bunny on Facebook, complete with an effusive grin as one of Kitty’s closest friends came back into her life. “Kitty was delighted,” Scott smiles. “Children never forget their favorite toys. It’s nice to be sentimental. It’s important to them.”
Kitty, reunited. Photo courtesy Jen Scott.
Reaching out and being rebuffed
Ted’s work has become more difficult thanks to a quirk of Facebook. The social media site has introduced a new way of distributing postings to a page’s followers, and it seems designed to trade ordinary views for paid ones.
Whenever an item is posted to a Facebook Page — be it a link, a description, or a photo — it is distributed to only a proportion of the page’s subscribers. In mid-January, Facebook dramatically curtailed the reach of those posts – some say by a factor of 10. It’s estimated that as little as six percent of those who “like” a page now see a post. Each post now displays a button that an admin can press to boost a post’s reach for a fee.
A 13-post sample provided to me by the admin of Teddy Bear Lost and Found showed that each missive following the change reached an average of 417 followers, around five percent of the profile’s total subscribers. Teddy Bear Lost and Found’s post reach dropped nearly 40 percent week-over-week, according to figures that Facebook provides to administrators of its pages.
“They are holding back our postings from reaching our followers,” says Ted. “I can’t tell all of our followers what’s going on without paying to tell them. The Boost Post [button] used to only show up on a few postings here and there, but it’s now on every posting.”
The Magazine asked Facebook for comment on the changes to post reach; a Facebook spokesperson declined to comment. Questions to Facebook about the topic, including whether a not-for-profit group could get better visibility, were all ignored. This reporter was instead directed to a generic blog post posted by the network in December 2013 explaining the change to its community. User comments on the blog post were largely negative, with many questioning why they had to pay in order for posts on a public social network to be seen by others.
Ted E Bear is doing all she can to keep the site going absent payments. She’s considered Kickstarter, but felt it would be too much work and put too public a face on what she wants to be private. The site, after all, was purely meant as a posterboard for her appeal for a friend’s lost bear.
“It has got much bigger than I ever imagined,” says Ted. “I’m still looking for a way to make all of this work where people can make their own listings, as I seem to be spending more and more hours on it. I don’t mind, but it is a bit much sometimes.”
Teddy Bear Lost and Found’s days may well be numbered, on Facebook at least. White Boomerang, a specialist lost-and-found Internet service, contacted Ted earlier in the year and have helped set up a page for Teddy Bear Lost and Found. A Teddy Bear Lost and Found app is also under discussion.
“It’s all becoming so convoluted,” types Ted one afternoon in a message. For their part, the site’s subscribers support her bid to remain unknown, and they’re thankful for the effort she puts into keeping alive one of the unblemished joys of childhood.
“I think it’s lovely that they remain anonymous,” says Jen Scott. “It’s someone doing something nice for no particular reason. They just do it because they want to help. And that’s refreshing in this day and age: you don’t get an awful lot of that.”
I can claim an interest in this, albeit a dated one. When I was a child, a favored plush toy didn’t make it onto a train from Manchester to Newcastle, my hometown. The rest of my family did. We quickly recognized the missing family member and called the hotel, and a kindly member of staff mailed my companion back to me. As with all missing objects, time is of the essence when reacting. ↩
Chris Stokel-Walker is a UK-based freelance writer for the Economist, the Sunday Times, the BBC, and BuzzFeed.