Facebook Safety Check in times of emergency

Taylor Nicole Richards – News Writer

In 2014, Facebook launched a feature called “Safety Check” that allows users to notify loved ones of their safety in moments of emergency. If a natural disaster or man-made disaster like a bomb or terror attack occurs on a large scale, Facebook will send a push notification to anyone who has their location set in the affected area asking if they’re OK. Users can reply “SAFE” if they weren’t affected or “OUT” if they’re out of the area of the disaster. If someone marks that they are safe, every one of their Facebook friends get a notification telling them so. One can also see who has checked themselves in as safe, but there is no option to mark oneself as “unsafe.”

Many people turn to social media to check up on family and friends in times of crisis. In 2011, over 12 million people were affected by a deadly tsunami in Japan. According to Facebook’s news team, Japanese engineers kickstarted this feature as a response to the people who used the platform as a primary means of communication. However, last week there was a terror attack in Lahore, Pakistan that killed around 65 people and injured over 300 others. According to John Ribeiro of PCWorld, there was a glitch that sent the push notification to people as far away as the United Kingdom and the U.S.

Diana Antunes, communication senior, thinks that the feature is helpful but considers the fact that it’s still not fully developed is an issue and ultimately counterintuitive. However Samantha Jannetty, junior, said that it is a good tool to have.

“I kind of like it. I’m not really connected through facebook at all and I don’t like the direction it’s been heading in in the past couple of years, but overall it’s definitely a good idea and something I would use if I ever found myself [in an affected area],” said Jannetty.

Safety Check is meant to make notifying friends and family easier with the push of one button, but Todd Lindstrom, music major, does not like its attempt at stepping in the middle of real communication.

“I think it’s a way better idea to just contact people directly. There should be a disclaimer that this isn’t necessarily the best means of reaching out,” said Lindstrom. “I don’t think we should encourage that type of disconnection from real communication and use facebook as the first response in times of emergency.”

Antunes had a similar response to Lindstrom: she said that even though it’s a great tool, not everyone checks Facebook all the time and there’s “no way to make sure” that just because someone pushed the button everyone will immediately know they are safe. She said the people who would “probably be the most worried” are older family members who go online infrequently compared to younger generations.

At the time of the initial release of this feature, Facebook announced that they could potentially partner with groups like Red Cross in the future as a greater step for public safety. Jannetty said that Facebook “would be going too far” if they were to ever establish the partnership.

“There’s so many ways that can go wrong too. People can mess with it and hit the notification as a joke,” said Jannetty. “It has the potential of being abused; everything can be abused nowadays so I think they should be careful.”

Photo Credit: Sarah Marshall


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