Facebook activated its "Safety Check" feature on Friday after the ISIS-led attack in Paris that killed over 130 people and injured over 300 more. The reporting system, where users in the affected area are given a green label if marked safe, was used by more than 4 million people.
Facebook launched the tool last year, originally inspired by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that killed nearly 16,000 people. The tool targets all users within an affected area and sends them a notification asking if they are "safe." If the user clicks "yes," a notification and News Feed story is added to the feeds of his or her contacts.
Now, in the days when citizens and the media alike are making sense of the events of Paris, some have questioned the criteria Facebook uses to activate its Safety Check feature. The day before the Paris attacks, Beirut was struck by double suicide bomb blasts that killed 43 people in a residential area -- also the work of ISIS.
Reportedly the Lebanese feel they have received less support worldwide compared with the attention Paris has received for similar attacks. Facebook's response is thought to be a symptom of this greater trend. According to the New York Times:
Monuments around the world lit up in the colors of the French flag; presidential speeches touted the need to defend "shared values;" Facebook offered users a one-click option to overlay their profile pictures with the French tricolor, a service not offered for the Lebanese flag. On Friday the social media giant even activated Safety Check, a feature usually reserved for natural disasters that lets people alert loved ones that they are unhurt; they had not activated it the day before for Beirut.
In response to this criticism, Mark Zuckerberg wrote over the weekend that "Until yesterday, our policy was only to activate Safety Check for natural disasters. We just changed this and now plan to activate Safety Check for more human disasters going forward as well."
And Alex Schultz, Vice President of Growth at Facebook, wrote that the decision to activate the Safety Check in Paris was based on the amount of activity they were seeing in that area. No numbers were provided, but as Facebook now considers using the tool for human disasters as well as natural, it will have to continue to tweak its policies in some effort toward fairness and to avoid moments where pure data fails to match up with human need.