Amid the horrific terror attacks in Paris, France on Friday, Facebook activated its “Safety Check” tool to help people easily let friends and family known that they were safe. More than 4.1 million people used it.
While many lauded Safety Check for being a crucial communication tool, Facebook also drew criticism from those who noted that the company hadn’t activated it after another tragic attack: The bombings in Beirut, Lebanon that had happened the day before.
The lack of activation seemed to point to a global compassion gap for terror victims in Europe versus the Middle East.
In a post titled “From Beirut, This is Paris: In a World That Doesn’t Care About Arab Lives,” a Lebanese doctor named Elie Fares put the issue poignantly:
When my people died, no country bothered to lit up its landmarks in the colours of their flag. Even Facebook didn’t bother with making sure my people were marked safe, trivial as it may be. So here’s your Facebook safety check: we’ve, as of now, survived all of Beirut’s terrorist attacks.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg addressed the topic in a Facebook post:
“Many people have rightfully asked why we turned on Safety Check for Paris but not for bombings in Beirut and other places,” Zuckerberg wrote. “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.”
Facebook had enabled the tool only five times since launching it in October 2014, with all previous usage occurring around natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis.
“Thank you to everyone who has reached out with questions and concerns about this,” Zuckerberg writes. “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.”
Another Facebook exec — VP of user acquisition and retention, Alex Schultz — elaborated on Zuckerberg’s point in his own posting.
He said that the site would continue to make Safety Check better and more effective.
“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,'” he wrote.
The company is still trying to understand how the tool should best be deployed.
“This activation will change our policy around Safety Check and when we activate it for other serious and tragic incidents in the future,” he said. “We want this tool to be available whenever and wherever it can help.”