Economy, Sci & Tech

Facebook to Enable Safety Check in Disasters

Facebook to Enable Safety Check in DisastersFacebook to Enable Safety Check in Disasters

In the immediate aftermath of the Paris attacks on Friday, many with loved ones living in the city received a new type of notification from Facebook. The social network activated a relatively new tool called Safety Check for the attacks, letting people in Paris easily tell their friends that they were safe.

While the feature has been helpful for many, some pointed to its use in Paris but not for other recent attacks—like a twin suicide bombing that killed over 40 in Beirut on Thursday—as yet another example of western bias that apparently values certain lives more than others, according to The Verge.

Like a natural disaster, Facebook’s vice president of growth, Alex Schultz,

 notes, during the attacks, “Facebook became a place where people were sharing information and looking to understand the condition of their loved ones.”

After discussing with Facebook employees on the ground, the company decided it was a good idea to turn on Safety Check.

“There has to be a first time for trying something new, even in complex and sensitive times, and for us that was Paris.”

Now that Facebook has set a precedent for using Safety Check for terrorism and other violent events, it will need to figure out when and where to use the feature.


From Schultz’s comments, it’s not clear if the team would have enabled it for Beirut. He includes the Lebanese city among “other parts of the world, where violence is more common and terrible things happen with distressing frequency”.

And he notes that “during an ongoing crisis, like war or epidemic, Safety Check in its current form is not that useful for people: because there isn’t a clear start or end point and, unfortunately, it’s impossible to know when someone is truly ‘safe’.”

That said, Schultz writes, “We want this tool to be available whenever and wherever it can help,” adding, “We will learn a lot from feedback on this launch.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg built on those remarks with his own statement, saying: “You are right that there are many other important conflicts in the world. We care about all people equally, and we will work hard to help people suffering in as many of these situations as we can.”

Facebook vowed on Monday to turn on its “Safety Check” feature more often during disasters in response to growing criticism that it only enabled the function after the attacks in Paris.

“Many people have rightfully asked why we turned on Safety Check for Paris but not for bombings in Beirut and other places,” said Zuckerberg on his official account.

“Until yesterday, our policy was only to activate Safety Check for natural disasters. We just changed this and now plan to activate Safety Check for more human disasters going forward as well.”

But many users were not satisfied with Zuckerberg’s statement, accusing the social media platform for caring more about certain parts of the world.

 Tech Tributes

Facebook has also introduced a new feature letting users apply a French flag filter over their profile photo for a limited time in wake of the Paris attacks. A feature that was never activated for any other tragedy in any other part of the world.

Online home-rental marketplace Airbnb Inc, which held its annual host convention in Paris a day before the attacks, activated its disaster relief program, enabling people displaced in Paris to stay with certain Airbnb hosts for free.

Online retailer Inc and popular online community Reddit also displayed French flags on their homepages to pay tribute to the victims of the Paris attack.

US Telecom companies, including Sprint Corp, T-Mobile and Verizon, offered free calling and texting services between France and the US, while Google allowed free use of its “Hangout” unified communications service.