Facebook activates Safety Check in Nigeria following bombing

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Facebook has turned on its Safety Check feature for users in Nigeria, following a bombing in the city of Yola on Tuesday.

Safety Check allows any user of the site who is present in an area affected by a disaster or attack to mark that they are safe. Its use in Nigeria is only the fifth time that the feature has been activated, and the second time that it has been enabled after a terrorist attack. The first was during Friday’s shootings in Paris.

Mark Zuckerberg announced that the feature was switched back on in a post on the site on Wednesday morning. “We’ve activated Safety Check again after the bombing in Nigeria this evening.

“After the Paris attacks last week, we made the decision to use Safety Check for more tragic events like this going forward. We’re now working quickly to develop criteria for the new policy and determine when and how this service can be most useful.”

Before Friday, the Safety Check feature had only been used for natural disasters. It was announced in October 2014, and was first activated for the having been activated for the earthquake in Nepal in April 2015. Subsequently, it was also turned on for the May earthquake in Nepal and for October’s Hurricane Patricia.

Facebook had faced criticism, however, for only deciding to apply the feature to terror attacks following the murders in Paris. Earlier atrocities in developing nations, often with a higher death toll, hadn’t prompted the same change in policy.

The company’s vice president of growth, Alex Schultz, wrote a post on the site to explain why Paris had prompted a reassessment of the tool: “We observed a lot of activity on Facebook as the events were unfolding. 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. We talked with our employees on the ground, who felt that there was still a need that we could fill.

“So we made the decision to try something we’ve never done before: activating Safety Check for something other than a natural disaster. There has to be a first time for trying something new, even in complex and sensitive times, and for us that was Paris.”

Others fear that opening Safety Check up to terror attacks could have a different effect to using the service for natural disasters. Robinson Meyer, an associate editor at the Atlantic magazine, worried that Safety Check could aid terrorists in achieving their goal, to promote a widespread feeling of fear.

It’s possible, he wrote, that the feature “reinforces terror’s message, forcing you to look at the faces of friends who were never endangered in the first place, reminding you ceaselessly of the dozens of people who could have been in the wrong place, at the wrong time – but were not. It recreates the fearful shockwave that terrorism seeks to create.”

For his part, Zuckerberg preached a message of hope in his post confirming that Safety Check was active in Nigeria.

“Deaths from war are lower than ever, murder rates are generally dropping around the world, and – although it’s hard to believe – even terrorist attacks are declining.

“Please don’t let a small minority of extremists make you pessimistic about our future.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Alex Hern, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 18th November 2015 15.59 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010