Orlando Massacre Triggers Facebook Safety Check

On Sunday, Facebook activated a new safety feature in response to the horrifying massacre at the gay night club in Orlando, Florida that left 49 dead and many more wounded. Safety Check had been activated in other countries, but Sunday makes the first day that the feature will be available in the United States.

safety check2The feature was activated first in Paris after last year’s terrorist attacks ravaged the city for a night. Safety Check allows for users to notify loved ones and friends that they’re safe in a time of crisis, whether the issue is caused by meaningless violence, civil unrest, natural disasters or otherwise. Users can check on the people thought to be in whatever area is affected by the danger and mark friends and loved ones safe when they can confirm that they’re OK.

According to Facebook, Safety Check has been tweaked since its initial release in order to streamline its deployment in places other than Paris:

“Many people practically live on Facebook, so this feature is a convenient way for people to notify others of their status,” explained program manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan Mike Jude. “Rather than having to call many people discretely, this allows anyone on your Facebook network to obtain your status.”

Facebook’s Peter Cottle wrote about Safety Check on June 2, not realizing that the feature would need to be used only 10 days later:

“We’re excited to continue working on Facebook’s role in crisis response over this coming year, as well as to test new ways for the community to initiate and spread Safety Check in the coming weeks.”

Cottle went on the explain how the feature works. Apparently, given the occurrence of a crisis, Facebook will run a small piece of code or hook that executes itself after every News Feed load. If someone is in the affected area, Facebook then invites that person to mark himself or herself safe with a feed prompt and a notification. Then Facebook searches for the person’s friends that are also in that area. Each friend will get a notification that invites them to participate in a Safety Check, and then Facebook will search through those people’s friends to see who might be affected. According to Facebook, it takes only a few minutes to move through up to 100,000 people. At full capacities, the feature can check in on millions of people in only 10-15 minutes.

safety check3“Police tend to get inundated during [emergencies], and they have very little information until well after the event is over,” commented principal analyst the Enderle Group Rob Enderle. “This is more real time and lets people communicate en masse.”

According to Charles Kind at Pund-IT, Facebook’s “massive user base could make Safety Check a valuable resource for people trying to establish the whereabouts and condition of loved ones.”

“Safety Check’s effectiveness depends on how, and how well, users utilize it,” he continued. “If they don’t buy in, Safety Check will be, at best only partially successful.”

Nothing not obvious in that statement. Safety Check has proven helpful not only in the Paris terrorist attacks but also after the devastating earthquake in Nepal last year.

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