Facebook expands safety check-in policy after Paris attack

Facebook expands safety check-in policy after Paris attack
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Facebook is changing the policy surrounding its safety check-in feature, which had in the past been deployed in natural disasters, after Friday's attacks in Paris.

The company activated the notifications during a violent tragedy for the first time on Friday, when terrorists killed at least 129 people in Paris. The feature pushes out notifications to people in a specific geographical area during a disaster, prompting them to share information about their safety with friends. 

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Some questioned why the feature was used to help those in Paris but not other places like Beirut, Lebanon, where a suicide bomber killed 40 people a day before the Paris attack. 

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Saturday said the company cares about all people equally and will use the tool in more human disasters. 

“Until yesterday, our policy was only to activate Safety Check for natural disasters,” he said in a post. “We just changed this and now plan to activate Safety Check for more human disasters going forward as well.” 

The check-in feature was originally thought up during the Japan tsunami in 2011. A full version of the feature has been deployed five times since it rolled out in October 2014 — during earthquakes in Afghanistan, Chile and Nepal, a tropical cyclone in the South Pacific and a typhoon in the Philippines. 

The company said the feature would still not be practical in certain crisis situations, like during an ongoing war or an epidemic, because there is no clear endpoint or sense when someone is truly safe. 

Facebook’s head of growth Alex Schultz said the tool was deployed on the fly in Paris because there was a lot of activity on the social media platform as events unfolded. 

“We talked with our employees on the ground, who felt that there was still a need that we could fill,” he said. 

During a presentation last month, the company’s Social Good team cited resources in explaining its previous policy of only deploying in natural disasters. Because it is a global service, the company said it is tricky enough dealing with all the natural events happening around the world. 

The company has previously used a formula to determine whether a natural disaster warranted deployment of the feature after consulting with policy teams on the ground. 

Factors include the number of people affected and the number of Facebook users in the region. The company also uses tools to monitor the sentiment and feelings of people’s posts in a certain region.