The first time I saw the Facebook Safety check feature was on a friend’s Facebook wall. It was after a particularly terrible terrorist suicide bombing I think in Maiduguri, Bornu State. At that time, I didn’t even know he was in Maiduguri. Anyway, the message said he was safe. It turned out, he was not even in Maiduguri, but I thought nothing of the mistake. The one thought I remembered having was, ‘How did my friend make that message appear on his Facebook wall?’
With the recent terrorist attack in Lahore, Pakistan, that killed about 70 people and left several more wounded and the attendant criticisms over how the deployment of the Facebook Safety check feature was bungled, I did a little checking about the safety feature. My findings surprised me a bit.
The Facebook Safety check feature was first deployed following the November 2014 terrorists attacks in Paris. I spent a whole lot of time online and I never knew about it until this controversy? I think I better evaluate my online activities for missing such an important update to Facebook. Facebook faced a lot of criticisms for deploying this feature only after the Paris attacks. Most of the criticisms were valid though. Because, basically, why did Facebook wait until a very important western city was attacked before introducing the Facebook Safety check. What about other attacks in third world countries that happened long before Paris.
Ever sensitive to issues of discrimination, especially since most users of Facebook are in poor non-western countries, Facebook had to act by deploying the feature to any country or city under terrorists attacks. And that is how my friend, who wasn’t in Maiduguri at the time, was able to get the notification on his Facebook wall.
The Facebook Safety feature activated for the Lahore incident was a real corporate bungling up. Normally when there is a terrorists attack, Facebook users in that area get a notification through the Facebook app or via SMS. In this case, Facebook users in location far from the incident also got the message. The notifications sent through the mobile app indicated the attack was in Pakistan. But those that got theirs through SMS did not have that privilege. So it was possible that a Facebook user having a quiet Easter Sunday with the family in Lagos, Nigeria, would have seen this message from Facebook, ‘Are you affected by the explosion?’
You can imagine how such message from Facebook might be upsetting to a lot of folks around the world. Especially, if one had absolutely no idea a bombing happened that day in Pakistan.
Facebook on their part explained that the problem was cause by glitch in their system. Nobody knows how widespread the problem was or how many people outside Pakistan got the message. Here is how Facebook tried to mitigate the embarrassment:
“We activated Safety Check today in Lahore, Pakistan, after an explosion that took place there. We hope the people in the area of the bombing find Safety Check a useful and helpful way to let their friends and family know they are okay. Unfortunately, many people not affected by the crisis received a notification asking if they were okay. This kind of bug is counter to our intent. We worked quickly to resolve the issue and we apologize to anyone who mistakenly received the notification.”
Well lets hope the Facebook Safety check feature is fine-tuned so nothing like this happens again. But, sometimes, I worry that Facebook is trying to do too much with the social network. Things like things are bound to happen when people cram too much features into a system. This mess up is small. The next one might be bigger and more disastrous.
photo credits: ndtv.com; google.com