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Inspired by people’s use of social media to connect with friends and family in the wake of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, Facebook first introduced this feature back in October 2014. Some of the features include push notifications, an “I’m safe” button to tell family/friends that you’re okay, and allows you to check on others as well. In the case of natural disasters, Facebook apply a set of criteria that includes the scope, scale, and impact.
When Facebook first announced this feature in 2014, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, said that connecting with people is always valuable, but it is in moments of disasters that it matters most. Since then, this feature has been activated a handful of times; after recent earthquakes in Afghanistan, Chile, and Nepal as well as Tropical Cyclone Pam in the South Pacific and Typhoon Ruby in the Philippines.
After receiving overwhelming usage during disasters, each time Facebook have launched the tool, they have improved it. Facebook encountered spam abuse with the tool in some launches, in others it had overwhelmed their notification systems because of the huge numbers of people wanting to tell their friends they were safe. Facebook are continually learning to make the tool and policies behind it better as they go.
Originally conceived for use during natural disasters only, Facebook decided to deploy the feature during the recent Paris attacks, a non-natural disaster. In the middle of a complex, uncertain situation affecting many people, Facebook became a place where people were sharing information and looking to understand the condition of their loved ones. This activation changed their policy around Safety Check and when they activate it for other serious events.
LAD’s thoughts and prayers are with the victims and families affected by the tragic events. Safe travels.