4M use Facebook Safety Check after Paris Attack

John Lister's picture

Facebook says more than four million Parisians used its "Safety Check" feature to reassure friends they were safe after last weeks terrorist attacks in Paris. But the company has been forced to explain why it did not activate the feature for bombings in Beirut.

The Safety Check feature was introduced to help people quickly and easily let others know they are safe during a disaster situation. The idea is to help cut down the number of phone calls and text messages sent asking if somebody is OK, or to let others know they are OK. That in turn is designed to reduce the pressures on local phone networks at a time when they often come under strain.

One-Click Update To Reassure Friends

Whenever Facebook activates the feature, any user who is logged in to the service and is in the vicinity of a disaster gets an on screen prompt asking if they are safe. The user can then either tap an "I'm safe" button or alternatively an "I'm not in the area" button.

Once this happens, the user's Facebook friends get a notification that the person is safe. They can also access a list of all friends shown as being in the area, divided into those who have marked they are safe and those yet to respond.

Facebook says 4.1 million users used the Safety Check feature to update their status after the Paris attacks. It's not clear exactly how many were prompted to use the tool, though around 12 million people live in Paris. Altogether, 360 million different users saw an update saying at least one person was safe. (Source: washingtonpost.com)

First Time For Man-Made Situation

While it's the fifth time the feature has been activated, it's the first time it's been done for something other than a natural disaster. The move has prompted some criticism from users who asked why Facebook did not activate its reassurance feature for two bombings in Beirut the same day, which killed 43 people.

Although some critics believed this was a sign of a "Western-bias," Facebook says that wasn't the case. Instead it argues that the feature will only work properly with one-off events rather than in ongoing conflicts or epidemics. It notes that in those situations which have no clearly defined start or end, "it's impossible to know when someone is truly 'safe'." (Source: facebook.com)

What's Your Opinion?

Was Facebook right to use the feature for a terrorist attack rather than solely for natural disasters? Should it extend the feature to other attacks, even when part of an ongoing conflict? Would you be reassured if friends could update you with "Safety Check" or could you become unduly concerned about people who might simply have lost Internet access but are unharmed.

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Dennis Faas's picture

Stepping back and looking at how this technology works is quite impressive. As for whether or not it should have been used in other conflicts is difficult to say. One idea might be to have users enroll in 'ongoing conflict' feed, where they can update their status for every bombing that takes place in certain parts of the world. Even so, it may be difficult to algorithmically ascertain when such an event takes place - especially if there is no wide-spread media coverage online.

inadee's picture

Facebook was right to use 'Safety Check' in the circumstance that is not 'the norm'. Persons in areas of known high risk can, and do, have methods of updating their status for specific events.

gmthomas44_4203's picture

I don't understand the problem here. Why can't anyone post a message on their page "I AM SAFE - DATE:TIME"? OR, am I too old to understand the technology here?