Facebook Refines 'Safety Check' for Crisis Events

John Lister's picture

Facebook has announced four changes to its Safety Check feature for dealing with local crises. The changes will offer more detail about what's currently happening, coordinate local help, and help make fundraising easier.

Safety Check is a feature that lets people in the geographic area of a natural disaster, terror attack or other crisis quickly mark themselves as "safe." The idea is that this saves people exchanging a plethora of messages in order to check if somebody is OK. That's particularly important with voice calls and text messages, which can easily overload local cell towers.

The feature has been used in several high profile incidents, with more than four million people in Paris marking themselves as safe during a series of attacks in 2015. There has been some controversy over the feature not being used for attacks in other countries, though Facebook says the system only really works for one-off events, rather than in areas with an ongoing military conflict.

Earlier this year, Facebook updated the system to allow users to ask or offer specific help such as providing food or shelter. It also began using automated measures to identify small-scale local crises, where Safety Check might be appropriate, without the need for Facebook staff to manually trigger the feature.

Fundraising Integrated With Tool

The latest updates bring four changes. The first allows people to set up or donate to specific fundraising for individuals affected by a crisis, or for relevant non-profit groups. Facebook will verify the fundraisers and handle the payment collection and distribution. It will take a fee of between 5 and 6.9 percent, but stresses this is to cover credit card processing and administration costs - which means Facebook won't be making any profits. (Source: fb.com)

Another change is to the 'help' program: it will now be available for all events where Safety Check is activated and will work on computers as well as mobile devices.

Users Can Add More Detail

The third change is that users that mark themselves as 'safe' can also add a personal note - for example: explaining the situation or mentioning if they need any help. This isn't really any different to posting a status update, but might be seen by more people, depending on their news feed settings. It could also help reduce stress by letting people make clear when they were completely unaffected by the crisis.

Finally, Safety Check alerts will now have a description of exactly what has happened in the incident. These will be provided by NC4, which is an agency dedicated to crisis reporting. This is designed to reduce the risk of people relying on inaccurate or incomplete reports in posts by ordinary users. (Source: techcrunch.com)

What's Your Opinion?

Do the changes make sense? Have you ever seen a friend mark themselves as safe during a crisis that triggered the feature? Does Safety Check have any drawbacks you can see?

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Dennis Faas's picture

With global terrorism being a major threat, these tools are incredibly useful. When I first heard of the 'Safety Check' feature, I recalled the attacks on 9/11 with the "Have you seen me?" leaflets of missing persons. While not everyone in the world uses Facebook, the fact is that billions of people do (even if you don't), and having something like Safety Check built into the program is very convenient. Hats off to Facebook for implementing a great idea.