Facebook: Does Safety Check help or hurt?
Facebook’s Safety Check is “stressing Brits out,” said Katie Collins in CNET.com. The feature—which prompts users to click a box in their profile to let friends and family members know they’re not in danger when emergencies, natural disasters, or terrorist attacks happen in their immediate area—has been activated at least four times in the United Kingdom this year. But instead of putting users’ minds at ease, Safety Check seems to be doing the opposite. When “I’m safe” prompts began to appear after last week’s devastating high-rise apartment fire in London, even users living miles away from the blaze were asked to mark themselves unharmed. “Some questioned whether the feature heightened the sense of panic, added to the anxiety, or made it seem like you were somehow affected when you weren’t.” Others wondered why Facebook needs to offer such assurances at all. “If you were worried about someone, wouldn’t you just call them directly?”
“Being 6 miles away from a burning building in a city with a population of 8.5 million should not be a cause for worry,” said Natasha Lomas in TechCrunch.com. But by designing Safety Check so that everyone is expected to “mark themselves safe,” Facebook has added to the hysteria by encouraging users to feel like their friends might somehow be caught up in a horrible tragedy. Safety Check has been activated more than 600 times worldwide since it debuted in 2014, with users sending more than a billion “safety” notifications. How many of those were actually necessary? That’s why I didn’t mark myself safe after the recent terrorist attack near London Bridge, even though I live nearby, said Aaron Balick in The Independent (U.K.). The risk of being harmed or killed in such an attack “is still vanishing low.” You may as well mark yourself “safe” after driving to work, which is far more dangerous. Having safety notifications might drive traffic to Facebook, “but I question whether it serves the public good.”
“Safety Check is horribly flawed,” said Matthew Hughes in TheNextWeb.com. But “it’s not a hopeless case.” Facebook mainly needs to improve the feature’s geo-targeting, which often sends prompts to users who are nowhere near the scene of a crisis. In the meantime, the social network is improving Safety Check by letting users add detailed notes to their check-ins, in order to give them more context. Facebook is also helping aid organizations get a better sense of “what’s happening on the ground” in real crisis zones, said Hayley Tsukayama in The Washington Post. Facebook plans to share information that shows “where people have fled to and when they are returning to their homes” with groups like UNICEF, the International Red Cross, and the World Food Program, in order to provide insights on where and how to provide aid. As always with Facebook, it’s the data that could make the difference. ■