Facebook hits more stumbling blocks with Safety Check, this time sending messages to unaffected users around the globe
As news of the tragic mass casualty attack that struck an Easter gathering in the city of Lahore began to break, the social network giant Facebook activated their Safety Check feature with the hopes of allowing local users to quickly post that they were safe and sound. For users with family and friends in Lahore, this was surely a welcome move in a situation where cellphones were likely to have been jammed up due to the overload of calls.
Unfortunately, locals were not the only ones to receive the notifications.
Reports have shown that users from as far away as the US, UK, Turkey, and other parts of Europe received messages asking them to check in. In the case of the messages from Facebook, it asked users: Are you OK? It looks like you’re in the area affected by The Explosion in Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park in Iqbal in Lahore.
However for other users, they sent the Safety Check messages by SMS that failed to mention where exactly the explosion was, leaving many to wonder if they should be concerned.
Thankfully some users took the mis-sent messages in good fun, saying that while they appreciated the concern, they were far away from the site of the blast.
Most appeared to be confused as to how Facebook, which has built a reputation for knowing users better than they know themselves, had suffered such a glitch. Soon after the first call went out, the company’s department that manages the Safety Check feature posted an apology for frazzling people’s nerves.
Is Safety Check a good idea?
The public’s reception to the Safety Check feature has been varied to say the least. In the horrible hours after an attack, whether it be in Brussels, Paris, Istanbul, Ankara, Yola, or Tel Aviv, there is an understandable desire to hear from loved ones that they have been unaffected by the tragedy.
Equally understandable is how the world has turned to social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to express their outrage. Hundreds of thousands of profiles quickly don the flag of the latest country to be affected, showing their solidarity with the victims. In the days and weeks following the attack, it is interesting to watch how long it takes friends to remove the filter on their picture and get back to business as normal.
There’s been a heated debate regarding Facebook’s choices in when to activate the feature, with some critics noting that it has been utilized for attacks like the one in Brussels last week and not for Istanbul. For every event that the Safety Check is activated for, there are tens of horrible occasions that they will leave it idle.
As far as I’m concerned, that’s fine.
I have posted in the past that I do not believe that Facebook is on the right track with this project. Following the attacks in Nigeria, less than a week after Paris, I asked, “How does a company judge which cases of human suffering are worthy of coverage? Should the feature be used in active conflict zones? If the feature is used in Paris, should Syrians in ISIS-held Raqqa have received a similar service after the French led reprisal bombings there?”
Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in an evening post announcing that they had made the decision to use the service for the Nigerian attack. He included a section wherein he told readers that his team was, “now working quickly to develop criteria for the new policy and determine when and how this service can be most useful,” adding that events like this “are all too common” and would not be posting about them regularly.
In providing a good and decent public service, Facebook has bitten off far more than it can chew. As if Facebook wasn’t already filled with enough harping on the political injustices and calls for the company to ban this group or that, they have opened themselves up to a never-ending stream of criticism that they simply just cannot win.
Beyond the technical critiques that I offered in that article that continue to stand in the way of Facebook acting as the primary mechanism of alert in times of danger, I think that glitches like these prove in part that concepts like a global platform such as Safety Check have the potential to do more harm than good.
Featured Image Credit: Facebook