On Friday, Paris was brutally attacked by ISIS terrorists. Attacks which have left over 100 dead and many more in hospital. Facebook responded and activated a feature that they have which is known as ‘Safety Check.’ This feature allows people in a region affected by crisis to check in with the tap of a button and let their friends and family know they are safe.
Over the weekend, Facebook profiles have been updated with French flags en masse in a showing of solidarity with France and the French people, however many users have been questioning why the safety check feature was not used in Beirut where more than 40 people died in bombings the day before the attacks in Paris.
This is in fact the first time that safety check has been used for a human disaster and not a natural disaster such as a tsunami. Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a comment on his Facebook picture that Facebook’s policy has just changed on Friday to allow the feature to be used in a human disaster and going forward it will be used more in future. This activation will change Facebook’s policy as a direct result of what was happening on the ground during the attacks.
Safety check first launched in 2011 and has been used for various natural disasters in different parts of the world. However, Facebook has stated that safety check in its current form cannot be applied to all cases. Alex Schultz, Facebook vice president of growth said that:
“In the case of natural disasters, we apply a set of criteria that includes the scope, scale and impact, during an ongoing crisis, like war or epidemic, Safety Check in its current form is not that useful for people: because there isn’t a clear start or end point and, unfortunately, it’s impossible to know when someone is truly ‘safe.’”
Facebook say that they decided to enable the feature in Paris because they were noticing a lot of activity on the ground and it has received positive feedback as users were reassured that their loved ones were safe when they saw them checking in on Facebook.
Facebook also said that they are exploring more ways for people to show support for “the things they care about” on Facebook through their profiles which was in response to criticism that there was a French flag profile picture made available but no Lebanese flag option.
With billions of daily active users from all over the world, it is important for Facebook to maintain a global perspective and not just a Western one.