Was Facebook Wrong to Activate Its Safety Check for Terrorist Attacks in Paris but Not Beirut?

The feature lets people inform their friends and family they are safe

7 January 2016

On 13 November, when terrorists struck Paris, Facebook activated its Safety Check feature, sending a message to its users whom it had detected through geolocation might be in that vicinity, asking: “Are you safe?” With the click of an “I’m safe” button, users indicated on their profile pages that they were. Within 24 hours, 4.1 million Facebook users in Paris took advantage of the feature and 360 million Facebook friends were notified their loved ones and friends were not in danger.

It was the first time Facebook activated the feature for an emergency other than a natural disaster. Safety Check was unveiled during the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and later was activated after earthquakes in Afghanistan, Chile, and Nepal.

Many people were relieved to receive the notifications during the Paris attacks. But some questioned why Facebook did not do the same following terrorist attacks in Beirut that occurred just the day before and killed 43 people and wounded 239. It was the deadliest suicide bombing in that city since 1990.

Responding in a Facebook post, the company’s vice president for growth, Alex Schultz, referring to Beirut and its history of violence, wrote, “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.” The company says it plans to activate the feature for incidents similar to the attacks in Paris in the future.

Was Facebook right to activate its Safety Check during the Paris terrorist attacks but not for Beirut’s? When should Facebook use Safety Check?

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