New Facebook Feature Connects People When Disaster Strikes

In light of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and around the world, many of us turned to social media outlets such as Facebook to read up about what was happening or to check in with friends and family. When our loved ones are halfway across the world with limited means of communication, social media can often be more effective than texting or calling when matters are more pressing and critical.

Courtesy of The Bay News Centre / Facebook

Courtesy of The Bay News Centre / Facebook

Enter Facebook’s relatively new Safety Check feature, where users in an affected area can mark themselves as safe after disasters strike.

Following a major disaster, Facebook users in an area marked as affected will receive a notification asking whether or not they are safe. Selecting the “I’m Safe” option will update a user’s status, as well as notify their friends in the affected area of their safety. From there, a Safety Check bookmark is created to compile that user’s proceeding updates, further letting friends and family know how they’re doing.

The feature was launched internationally in October of 2014 as a response to the overwhelming activity on the site following the tsunami and earthquake in Tokyo a few years before. An early version of Safety Check called the Disaster Message Board was tested in Japan in the aftermath of these disasters, and it yielded immensely positive results. Since its 2014 debut, the feature has been activated eight times.

Courtesy of Paris Attacks / Facebook

Courtesy of Paris Attacks / Facebook

From the Tokyo tsunami to the recent earthquakes in Nepal, Safety Check has been enabled solely following major natural disasters. However, the Paris attacks signify an important shift in the feature’s purpose—the bombings and shootings that just occurred in Paris are classified as social, or human, disasters.

When Safety Check was activated for those in the affected Parisian areas, the feature overstepped the boundary of its previously-stated, natural disaster-targeted purpose.

Though Safety Check did its job of keeping loved ones connected in the disaster’s wake via social media, Facebook has been receiving backlash from users who are outraged that the feature was activated after the attacks in Paris but not after the bombings in Beirut the day before.

In a post on his own Facebook page, company founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg affirmed the validity of these concerns and admitted that the feature’s deployment on the day of the Parisian attacks was unexpected.

Courtesy of Paris Attacks / Facebook

Courtesy of Paris Attacks / Facebook

Zuckerberg promised users that the Facebook team “care[s] about all people equally, and we will work hard to help people suffering in as many situations as we can.”

The purpose of the site is to keep people connected in a singular online community, whether they live in the same city or are thousands of miles apart. In a world that’s becoming ever over-connected, features that put our focus back on the well-being of our loved ones, like Safety Check, can restore our faith in social media.

In a statement made on his Facebook page announcing the launch of the feature, Zuckerberg added that “connecting with people is always valuable, but these are the moments when it matters most.”

Courtesy of The New York Times / Facebook

Courtesy of The New York Times / Facebook

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