Facebook saftey check for Paris.
(photo credit: screenshot)
When Inbal Naveh Safir awoke at 1:30 in the morning to feed her baby, Leo, she discovered that her phone had been inundated with WhatsApp messages while she was sleeping.
“Are you OK? Is everyone safe? Where were you?” Having gone to bed early, she was unaware of the shooting attack that took place hours earlier in Tel Aviv’s Sarona Market, killing four and injuring dozens. Her parents had been at a movie in the area just 20 minutes before, but were thankfully safe.
Safir took to Facebook to let her friends know that she and her family were all right, but she was also exasperated.
“Mark Zuckerberg, where is my safety check-in following a terrorist attack?” she wrote, tagging Facebook’s founder and CEO in the post.
She was referring to a feature the social network developed – at its Israeli development center, no less – that lets people “check in” as safe, following a mass casualty terrorist event or natural disaster. The feature helps friends and families find out that their loved ones are safe, and has even been used by governments to track the fates of their nationals in a foreign disaster.
Others posting on social media after Wednesday’s Tel Aviv attack expressed similar dismay at the perception that Israelis were being overlooked.
“You know what would be nice....if #Facebook would ever turn on the #SafetyCheck feature in #Israel when we have a #terror attack,” wrote a user named Miriam.
“Hey Mark, Was sorry to see that the Facebook Safety Check didn’t activate after the shooting tonight... In case you are wondering how everyone is doing...” wrote Ellie, another Facebook user.
When Facebook announced the technology in October, 2014, it was oriented toward large scale natural disasters.
Its first use came two months later in the Philippines, when Typhoon Hagupit killed 18 people and caused $114 million in damage.
But when ISIS-inspired gunmen attacked the streets of Paris in November, 2015, killing 130 people, the company decided to expand the feature’s usage to include mass casualty terrorist incidents.
Quickly, however, Facebook faced criticism over its selective usage of the tool.
For example, shortly after the Paris attacks, when deadly explosions rocked Nigeria, the company was slow to deploy the feature, doing so only after criticism over impartiality.
There were also incidents in which the feature malfunctioned.
In March, following a terrorist attack that killed 72 in Pakistan, Facebook sent messages to large numbers of users around the globe, asking “Are you OK? It looks like you’re in the area affected by the explosion in Gulshan-i- Iqbal Park, Lahore, Pakistan.
Let your friends know that you’re safe.”
In a blog posted November 15, 2015, Facebook’s VP of growth, Alex Schultz, laid out the criteria under which the tool would be deployed.
For natural disasters, it would depend on the “scope, scale and impact” of the event.
“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.
In other words, barring a mass casualty event, Israel may be left off the safety check list because terrorism is frequent. In Chicago, when 64 people were shot over Memorial Day weekend leaving six dead, and in the recent shooting incident at UCLA, the tool also remained unused. The company has also said, however, that it is still learning how to best deploy the tool, and has been sensitive to criticism in the past.