Following catastrophic events like the 2011 tsunami that hit Tokyo, Facebook launched its new Safety Check feature to utilize the vast reach of the social network to connect affected people with their families and friends. It basically works by sending out a notification asking you if you’re OK when Facebook detects you’re within the affected area. This weekend, however, some Facebook users from different places around the world were being asked by Safety Check if they were alright, saying they were in Lahore, Pakistan where a suicide bomb killed dozens and injured hundreds.
Facebook’s Safety Checked leveraged the power of social media in times and areas where traditional press coverage or even rescue operations couldn’t easily reach. Originally designed for natural disasters, Facebook expanded its scope to terrorist attacks in light of the disastrous Paris bombings late last year. In all those cases, however, Facebook has to decide whether to turn Safety Check on or off for a specific event.
In this case, Facebook did activate Safety Check for Lahore. The issue was that the notifications went out to people who were definitely not in that area. Users in New York, the Bay Area, and the UK tweeted being asked if they were OK from the bombings. Facebook acknowledge that there has, indeed, been an error and is hunting for the cause of that bug. It is also trying to determine whether users from other countries have received such a notification.
“Unfortunately, many people not affected by the crisis received a notification asking if they were okay. This kind of bug is counter to our intent. We worked quickly to resolve the issue and we apologize to anyone who mistakenly received the notification.”
It is probably a harmless glitch at best, something that could be used by less conscientious pranksters at worst. But the irony of the situation is that it helped bring the incidents in Lahore to the limelight. Following the bombings in Brussels, social media users might have remained behind the news in Pakistan. This software glitch, though probably taken lightly, at least increased the attention shed on Lahore.