Facebook under fire after its ‘Safety Check’ feature helps only Paris, not Beirut and Kenya

By @ritwikroy1985 on
Mark Zuckerberg Facebook
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Suicide bombers in Beirut killed at least 43 people on Thursday, only a day before the Paris terror attacks. But Facebook’s “Safety Check” feature was not available to the Lebanese people. Those living in Lebanon have strongly criticised this differential treatment which they felt implied that western lives are more important than lives in the Middle East.

Facebook’s “Safety Check” feature allows people to communicate their safety to family and friends if they are caught up in major natural disasters or acts of terrorism. Before France, the feature was widely used during the recent Pakistan earthquake. Both the attacks in Beirut and Paris have been claimed by the Islamic State (IS).

Joey Ayoub, a Lebanese blogger living in London and a student of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), wrote about the Beirut and Paris attacks in his blog, Hummus for Thought.

“These have been two horrible nights. The first took the lives of over 40 in Beirut, the second took the lives of over 100 in Paris. It also seems clear to me that to the world, my people’s deaths in Beirut do not matter as much as my other people’s deaths in Paris,” Ayoub posted on his blog on Saturday.

Ayoub’s blog post received more than 10,000 shares on Facebook, as reported by Aljazeera.

Mark Zuckerberg, Founder and CEO of Facebook, addressed this criticism by posting about it on the social networking site.

“Many people have rightfully asked why we turned on Safety Check for Paris but not for bombings in Beirut and other places," Zuckerberg stated in his official Facebook account.

"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," he added.

Zuckerberg thanked everyone who asked him about the Safety Check and agreed with them on the importance of conflicts in other places. He also said that his company cares for all people equally and they will work hard to help people in difficult and dangerous situations, as much as they can.

Aside from the Beirut attacks, the feature was also not available during the Garissa University College attack in Kenya on April 2, 2015 that left 147 dead, according to  The Sydney Morning Herald.

Facebook launched its “Safety Check” feature on Oct. 15, 2014. Facebook's engineers in Japan were inspired by the use of social media after the massive tsunami in Tōhoku, Japan that killed nearly 16,000 people. The feature was also available during the April and May 2015 earthquakes in Nepal as well as the recent Hurricane Patricia in October 2015.

Although man-made disasters have been included now, the feature will not be available yet for wars and major spread of diseases such as Ebola. You can learn more about the Facebook “Safety Check” feature here and here.

Recently Facebook also tested its “vanishing message” feature like that of Snapchat, according to a report from Sky News. If users tap the hourglass icon on the top right corner of the Messenger screen, it will allow them to send a vanishing message that will disappear after an hour. The application is still in its testing phase. If successful, it will be available to all users in other countries soon.

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