Facebook activates Safety Check for human disasters

The recent events that transpired in Paris left many, both in France and around the world, stunned and worried about the safety of their family and friends in affected areas. As before, when traditional media and governments are unable to provide information fast enough, people have taken to social media not just to air their condemnation of the inhumane actions and support for victims and their kin, they also use it to tell others that they are safe. That is why Facebook made an unprecedented, and unsurprisingly controversial, move to activate its Safety Check for Paris.

The social networking giant launched its Safety Check tool at the height of the tsunami and nuclear disaster that devastated Japan in 2011. Since then, it has also deployed the tool whenever natural disaster struck to massive destruction, like the earthquakes in Afghanistan, Chile, and Nepal or the typhoon in the Philippines. At its most basic, Safety Check allows users in affected areas to either broadcast to family and friends that they are safe, check on others in affected regions, or mark others as safe. While the feature has seen its share of spam and false information, the benefits tremendously outweigh those.

Facebook initially limited Safety Check to natural disasters for practical reasons. Disasters such as those had clearly defined parameters, like when it started and when it ends. It is also easy to determine what "safe" means for people during those times. In times of war or an epidemic, things aren't so clear cut. But sometimes, disasters caused by human hands are just as terrible and even more tragic. And they definitely need just as much help from tools like this.

That said, Facebook's actions weren't met with totally open arms. In particular, questions have been raised why Facebook only activated Safety Check when Paris was attacked and not for Beirut, who suffered a similar gruesome fate just a few days earlier. While some might argue that casualties in the Lebanon capital are fewer, human lives are human lives and the attention that Facebook's Safety Check brought could have benefited Beirut as well, which is already reeling from being suddenly forgotten, overshadowed by the French incident.

Facebook explains that it wasn't its initial intention to enable Safety Check for human disasters at all but that the activity (a.k.a. Internet traffic) it saw on Facebook because of the Paris bombings led it to reconsider. As such, it isn't exactly prepared with new rules that will govern Safety Check for this kind of incident and will practically be making it up as they go. That said, Safety Check still doesn't seem to have been activated for Beirut as of this writing.

SOURCE: Facebook (1), (2)