After Paris attacks, Facebook promises to expand Safety Check to rest of world

16 Nov 2015

Following the coinciding attacks on Paris and Beirut last week, Facebook was criticised over its decision to issue its Safety Check feature in Paris, but not Beirut, but this is about to change.

As many people now know, the Paris attacks last Friday saw 129 people lose their lives in several different incidents, sparking panic in the French capital and fears from people that their loved ones might have been caught up in the violence.

In October last year, Facebook launched its Safety Check feature, which would allow people in a location where a major incident has happened to check in, notifying their friends that they are safe, drawing some praise in the process.

However, just the night before the violence in Paris, 43 people in the Lebanese city of Beirut were also killed in a double bombing attack, which did not receive the same Safety Check treatment from Facebook, according to PC World.

This has drawn criticism from a number of people online, who claimed that the social network is guilty of western bias, ignoring other events around the world.

This certainly has not been helped by the fact that Facebook users can now apply a temporary filter of the French flag to their profile pictures, but not the flags of countries where other major disasters, such as the Beirut bombings, have occured.

Some people have begun offering their services on Facebook to help other people change the filter of their profile to the Lebanese flag, such as Hubert Southall who explained his decision in his post: “All cries need to be heard … I’m hoping to influence Facebook to be more inclusive with their features.”

Expanding Safety Check for all disasters

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has since posted on his page in response to the criticism of bias by agreeing with people’s complaints.

However, Zuckerberg said that the French attacks were the first time Facebook implemented the Safety Check feature for a terrorist attack, rather than the natural disasters it has been used for up until now.

He went on to say that Facebook will “now plan to activate Safety Check for more human disasters going forward as well”.

In a more detailed post, Facebook’s VP of growth, Alex Schultz, echoed Zuckerberg’s sentiments: “This activation will change our policy around Safety Check and when we activate it for other serious and tragic incidents in the future. 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 of Paris, too.”

French flag image via arenysam/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic