Facebook’s Safety Check tool helps users let friends and loved ones know they are safe during disasters.
Following criticism that Facebook activated its Safety Check feature for the Paris terrorist attacks but not the bombings in Beirut, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has vowed to use the status tool more often during human-made disasters.
Facebook activated the tool Friday after a series of shootings and bombings around France’s capital killed more than 100 people and injured more than 350 others. The tool automatically sends users in the affected area a note asking if they’re safe. When a user clicks “Yes, let my friends know,” the tool then notifies their Facebook friends.
More than 4 million people have used the tool to mark themselves safe following the Paris attacks. But after enacting another feature that allows users to alter their profile pictures to express solidarity for the people of Paris, the Mountain View, California-based social network came under fire for not extending the same attention to twin suicide bombings in a Beirut suburb that killed more than 40 people and injured 200 a day earlier. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, claimed responsibility for both the attacks in both cities.
“You are right that there are many other important conflicts in the world,” Zuckerberg wrote Saturday in a comment on Facebook. “We care about all people equally, and we will work hard to help people suffering in as many of these situations as we can.”
Facebook said it began working on Safety Check after an earthquake caused a devastating tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011. The status tool officially launched in October 2014 has been activated a handful of times since, including after the recent earthquakes in Afghanistan, Chile and Nepal, Facebook said.
While noting that “communication is critical in moments of crisis,” Alex Schultz, Facebook’s vice president of growth, conceded that the tool isn’t perfect for all disaster situations.
“In the case of natural disasters, we apply a set of criteria that includes the scope, scale and impact,” Schultz wrote in a Facebook post Saturday. “During an ongoing crisis, like war or epidemic, Safety Check in its current form is not that useful for people: because there isn’t a clear start or end point and, unfortunately, it’s impossible to know when someone is truly ‘safe.'”
Schultz said Facebook learned from the feedback it received following the Paris activation of Safety Check and will change its policy regarding when to activate the tool. He also said Facebook will “continue to explore how we can help people show support for the things they care about through their Facebook profiles.”
Facebook wasn’t the only social media outlet people turned to let people know they were safe during the Paris attacks. Parisians also took to Twitter to get information and express solidarity, as well as to help those seeking safety from the attacks. Under the hashtag #PorteOuverte (“open door”), Twitter users in Paris posted their address to offer shelter.