Facebook has activated its “Safety Check” feature again after a deadly bombing in Nigeria that has left at least 32 dead and 80 injured.
Late Tuesday night (US time), CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in a post on Facebook that the tool was being switched on. Safety Check allows users to mark themselves “safe” following “tragic events.”
Historically it has been used in response to natural disasters, like the April 2015 earthquake in Nepal that killed thousands. But this weekend, Facebook decided to broaden its scope, and switched it on in response to the terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 129 people and injured hundreds.
The social network subsequently came under some criticism for this decision: A day before Paris, a terrorist attack in Beirut killed more than 40 people, but Facebook did not activate Safety Check.
Facebook has no safety check-in for Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Baghdad, Somalia or Ankara. Selective solidarity with the West sells better.
— Trendulkar (@Trendulkar) November 14, 2015
He wrote that the company “chose to activate Safety Check in Paris because we observed a lot of activity on Facebook as the events were unfolding. In the middle of a complex, uncertain situation affecting many people, Facebook became a place where people were sharing information and looking to understand the condition of their loved ones. We talked with our employees on the ground, who felt that there was still a need that we could fill. So we made the decision to try something we’ve never done before: activating Safety Check for something other than a natural disaster.”
He said that the Paris activation changes Facebook’s policy for Safety Check, “and when we activate it for other serious and tragic incidents in the future. We want this tool to be available whenever and wherever it can help.”
But he cautioned that Safety Check isn’t necessarily a relevant tool in all situations. “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.'”
Safety Check’s activation in Nigeria is a sign of this changed policy. An explosion at a market in the city of Yola killed 32 and injured dozens on Tuesday night, according to a report by Al Jazeera.
Announcing the activation, Zuckerberg says that the company is “working quickly to develop criteria for the new policy and determine when and how this service can be most useful.”
He says there won’t be such public notices every time it is switched on: “Unfortunately, these kinds of events are all too common, so I won’t post about all of them. A loss of human life anywhere is a tragedy, and we’re committed to doing our part to help people in more of these situations.”
Writing in the Financial Times on Monday, journalist Kadhim Shubber explored some of the limitations of Safety Check. He argued that its unsuitability for war zones means that “those with arguably the most need of a tool like Safety Check don’t get it. The service becomes an implicit endorsement of state violence and also of western-backed state violence.”
He also explores the political grey areas that the tool — and the decisions on when to activate it — will generate. “How Facebook acts now will determine whether it can be viewed as a truly global company attuned to the needs of its users in every corner of the world. Will attacks on civilians by Islamic radicals elicit a response but not, for example, accidental attacks by the US government on hospitals?”
Here’s the full post from Zuck about the Nigeria bombing:
We’ve activated Safety Check again after the bombing in Nigeria this evening.
After the Paris attacks last week, we made the decision to use Safety Check for more tragic events like this going forward. We’re now working quickly to develop criteria for the new policy and determine when and how this service can be most useful.
Unfortunately, these kinds of events are all too common, so I won’t post about all of them. A loss of human life anywhere is a tragedy, and we’re committed to doing our part to help people in more of these situations.
In times like this, it’s important to remind ourselves that despite the alarming frequency of these terrible events, violence is actually at an all-time low in history and continues to decline.
Deaths from war are lower than ever, murder rates are generally dropping around the world, and — although it’s hard to believe — even terrorist attacks are declining.
Please don’t let a small minority of extremists make you pessimistic about our future.
Every member of our community spreads empathy and understanding on a daily basis. We are all connecting the world together. And if we all do our part, then one day there may no longer be attacks like this.
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