In the aftermath of the horrific Paris terrorist attacks, which left over 129 people dead, Facebook activated its Safety Check feature for those in the city. While Facebook’s decision received positive response from most users, others also raised questions as to why the social media giant did not activate the tool when Beirut was attacked earlier.
Now Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg has responded to the criticism and said that Facebook will change its policy on activating the Safety Check tool during human disasters.
In a post on Facebook, Zuckerberg wrote,”Many people have rightfully asked why we turned on Safety Check for Paris but not for bombings in Beirut and other places.” He added that till the Paris attacks, Safety Check was only for natural disasters.
“We just changed this and now plan to activate Safety Check for more human disasters going forward as well,” he wrote.
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Zuckerberg thanked those who raised concerns over the Beirut bombings and notes in his post, “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.”
In another post, Facebook’s Vice President of Growth Alex Schultz also explained the policy on Safety Check.
He say that initially they (Facebook) were first inspired to create the tool after the Tsunami in Japan in 2011. “Facebook engineers on the ground were concerned, saw people posting they were safe and wanted to make that easier. A couple of passionate people at Facebook hacked together a solution that evolved into the Safety Check tool people are seeing today,” writes Schultz. The tool has since then been used in times of natural disasters like earthquakes in Afghanistan, Chile and Nepal
Schultz adds that while the tool is useful in natural disasters, in crises that are continuing that like war or epidemic, safety check is not often the best solution, “because there isn’t a clear start or end point.” He adds that it is impossible to say when someone is truly safe in such situations.
On the Paris terrorist attacks, he says Facebook activated the tool because they “observed a lot of activity on Facebook as the events were unfolding.”
“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. There has to be a first time for trying something new, even in complex and sensitive times, and for us that was Paris,” he writes.
Facebook’s VP of Growth also confirmed that the Paris decision changes their policy around Safety Check. “We want this tool to be available whenever and wherever it can help. We will learn a lot from feedback on this launch, and we’ll also continue to explore how we can help people show support for the things they care about through their Facebook profiles, which we did in the case for Paris, too,” he said.
Facebook has also launched a new Profile Picture tool, where people can add the French flag filter to their profile picture to show support for Paris and France.