Facebook’s safety check feature didn’t play favorites

Facebook’s safety check feature didn’t play favorites

Facebook’s safety check feature didn’t play favorites
November 19
17:17 2015

The Editorial Board

When Facebook launched a revamped safety check feature in the wake of the Paris attacks last Friday, many were quick to criticize the platform for its supposed selective outrage. Having not activated the service for the Beirut bombings the week before, many claimed Facebook, along with the news media at large, blatantly ignored the event.

This could not be further from the truth. The bombings were covered extensively, but the reason many feel differently is that nobody read the coverage that was out there or bothered to check the validity of statements to the contrary.

“People start with a narrative they feel is true, and then look for evidence to support that narrative,” Vox writer Max Fisher said in a Nov. 16 article.

Facebook’s Safety Check, prior to the attacks in Paris, was only used in natural disasters. It had been activated four other times this year: for the Earthquakes in Nepal, Chile and Pakistan, as well as for Hurricane Patricia.

According to Facebook analytics, 4.1 million people marked themselves as safe, and more than 360 million were notified of someone’s safety. It has nothing to do with selective outrage. It has to do with what piques the interest of those online.

Are individuals angry at Facebook for ignoring Beirut? Do they feel guilty for not caring themselves? It should also be pointed out that it was activated in Nigeria yesterday, following a deadly bombing in the city of Yola. Change is taking place.

Regardless of emotions on the feature or concerning Facebook’s temporary profile setting with the French flag overlying one’s profile picture, the fact remains: this is a fantastic use of social media.

Facebook has 1.5 billion active monthly users globally. It has the capacity to ensure peace of mind following tragedies of all types, and this feature should be celebrated rather than criticized.

To provide context, look at Sep. 11, 2001.

In the immediate wake of the attack, panic was widespread for those who knew someone who could have fallen victim. Landlines were bogged down, cell phones were primitive by today’s standards, and social media as we know it didn’t exist.

Safety Check is a way to give immediate peace of mind to those who might be unreachable following unexpected misfortune. As it evolves into a more micro-level and is available to those affected by less widespread tragedy, we as a society are likely to see the potential of its usefulness.

It should be celebrated as a natural and innovative extension of a connected 1.5 billion people on a network known around the world.

Photo Courtesy | CBS

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