Facebook's Safety Check Activated For First Time In US - InformationWeek

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IoT
IoT
Software // Social
Commentary
6/13/2016
12:06 PM
Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman
Commentary
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Facebook's Safety Check Activated For First Time In US

The Orlando nightclub shooting prompted Facebook to turn on its Safety Check tool so survivors of the massacre could let friends and family know they were safe.

Facebook F8: AI, Future Of Apps On Display
Facebook F8: AI, Future Of Apps On Display
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Facebook activated its Safety Check feature in the US for the first time on Sunday, following the shooting at an Orlando nightclub. A gunman fired a storm of bullets into the crowded club, killing 50 and wounding dozens more.

Facebook first launched Safety Check in 2014. The idea behind the tool is to allow people who are close to natural or man-made disasters to alert loved ones about their safety status. Communications can be disrupted or congested during disasters, making it difficult for people to reach friends and family in areas where danger is at hand.

Facebook makes use of location data to determine which users are near disasters and asks them if they are safe. Users can then alert friends and family to their status with a single click.

In a statement provided to media, the company said:

Following the community-generated Safety Check activation this morning in Orlando, we have now activated Facebook-initiated Safety Check for a mass shooting at a nightclub there. We hope the people in the area find the tool a helpful way to let their friends and family know they are okay.

(Image: ymgerman/iStockphoto)

(Image: ymgerman/iStockphoto)

Before June 12, the feature had never been used in the US. Some times it has been put to use include natural disasters like flooding in Sri Lanka and an earthquake in Ecuador. The November 2015 attacks in Paris saw the company use Safety Check for a terror event for the first time.

Facebook has tweaked the tool since its debut. It has put more people around the globe in charge of activating the tool, and sped up the time it takes to activate Safety Check.

"Earlier this month, we began testing features that allow people to both initiate and share Safety Check on Facebook," said Facebook in a statement provided to Mashable. "Over the last few months, we have improved the launch process to make it easier for our team to activate more frequently and faster, while testing ways to empower people to identify and elevate local crises as well."

[Read Microsoft, Facebook Team up to Build Cross-Atlantic Cable.]

Media reports detail victims' use of mobile phones and social networks to contact loved ones during the attack.

Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30, sent his mother a series of text messages while trapped in the rest of Pulse Orlando, reported the Associated Press. "Mommy I love you," he wrote, followed later by, "He's coming. I'm gonna die." Justice's mother did not learn of her son's fate for nearly 12 hours until his name was posted to an official list of victims.

The owner of Pulse used the club's Facebook page to say, "Everyone get out of Pulse and keep running," during the attack.

Later, MirrorUK reported, "Investigators were forced to 'tune out' [the] sound of ringing phones coming from bodies strewn about the scene of the massacre."

Facebook did not say how many people made use of Safety Check to alert friends and family about their safety. The attack highlights just how important social networks and mobile communications have become when tragedy strikes.

Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies. View Full Bio
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Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Author
6/25/2016 | 2:06:30 PM
Re: FB
@vnewman: Lamentably, with things like this, people tend to confirm their safety incidentally anyway by using Facebook to post political rants on their opinions about how the disaster could have been averted.

Which leads to unfollowing Facebook friends.

Which leads to people not knowing their safety status down the line.

But then, if a tree falls in a forest and nobody's there to follow it on social networks...  ;)
vnewman2
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vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
6/24/2016 | 7:48:44 PM
Re: FB
@joe that would seem to make the most sense and I would hope that is the way it works but I suppose we will have to wait for disaster to strike to know firsthand.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Author
6/24/2016 | 11:15:07 AM
Re: FB
@vnewman: Of course, FB can ram it down users throats the same way they do other features.  If a catastrophe occurs in a City X, FB could have a big thing at the top of their feed asking them to "check in as safe" or whatever if the user's profile indicates that they live in or near City X or have recently checked in there.
vnewman2
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vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
6/14/2016 | 1:58:13 PM
Re: FB
@Joe - Right-o.  So in the height of an emergency where your life is at risk, do most people have the mindset to activate a feature they've never seen or used before?  Probably not, once panic sets in. 
Whoopty
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Whoopty,
User Rank: Ninja
6/14/2016 | 7:51:42 AM
Re: FB
Yea I haven't heard much about it outside of InformationWeek, thanks for keeping us informed guys. 

That said, it sems like a pretty handy feature, especially since traditional channels are usually rammed with users when this sort of terrible event happens.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Author
6/14/2016 | 6:27:04 AM
Re: FB
For my own part, I would have no idea of this feature's existence if not for 1) the notification I received that one particular friend of mine in Orlando who used it, and 2) InformationWeek's coverage here.
vnewman2
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vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
6/13/2016 | 2:12:20 PM
Re: FB
Good points @Joe - I was also wondering - is there an alert that the safety check is turned on so that people know it's available?  If you miss the notifcation, are you out of luck?  I wonder how it appears to someone in the danger zone.  Does anyone know?
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Author
6/13/2016 | 12:51:07 PM
FB
On the one hand, this seems like a long-overdue functionality.  Being a Bostonian, the Boston Marathon bombing immediately comes to mind as cell service was clogged while people attempted to reach loved ones to try to confirm all was well.  Ditto for the all-night car chase through Cambridge and Watertown a few days later and the following day when Watertown, Boston, and surrounding areas were almost completely shut down by police during the manhunt.

Ditto for other events that have happened throughout the country.

On the other hand, an "I'm okay" status update accomplishes the same thing.

When I checked Facebook today, I received a notification telling me that a friend of mine in Orlando was marked as safe.  That's good.  But this is now, what, a couple of days later?  Not to mention the fact that this friend of mine is a married woman who works extremely long and late hours and whom I had no reason to believe would have been anywhere near the vicinity of the Orlando shooting.  All this notification did was remind me to worry about other FB friends of mine in Orlando (needlessly, to be sure).

So it's kind of a blessing and a curse.  Still, at least FB's innovating here.
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