Facebook has a safety check dilemma, and even this deployment was not perfect, but the company is doing good to bring the feature to the entire world, not just the West
We here at e27 have made no reservations about criticising Facebook for the seemingly Western-biases the social media giant has used when deciding whether or not to deploy a ‘safety check’ after a disaster.
When four civilians were killed in the January 2016 terrorist attacks in Jakarta, we pointed out that, as locals tried to confirm which parts of the city were safe, locals had circumvented Facebook and created their own hashtag (#SafetyCheckJKT) to essentially democratise the same service.
On Sunday, a suicide bombing in Lahore killed over 70 people — leaving our hearts heavy as the global community becomes ever more weary of the frequency of such attacks.
It feels insensitive — when people have lost their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters and friends to wanton violence — but those paying attention did notice Facebook deployed its safety check feature in a timely fashion in a non-Western, majority muslim, country.
Yes, something happened, a bug entered the system and users all over the world were notified to mark themselves safe in a tragedy occurring thousands of miles away.
But to, as they say, take the piss out of Facebook for human error is akin to gloating while taking a swing at a punching bag — it is an easy target. Facebook apologised for the mistake, but to be frank it was unnecessary. Mistakes happen.
What was so infuriating about the Indonesia incident, and a string of attacks in Turkey, was Facebook outwardly ignoring devastating events. As many people have pointed out, Brussels and Paris deserve safety checks, but so do Istanbul and Jakarta.
Facebook’s safety check dilemma gets so much attention for two reason. First is obvious, Facebook has an unparalleled global reach and if it is going to build a tool like safety check, it needs to be able to integrate it into communities far more detached from Western culture than the company is itself.
But the second reason is more interesting. It follows the trend news media have been dogged with for decades — the reality that disasters, be it natural or man-made, get far more attention when the victims are Western and, to put it bluntly, white.
In recent months, as the world is adjusting to the fact that these attacks have become, frankly, common, it seems there has been some effort to cover disasters in the Middle East with the same attention as in Europe.
There seems to have been some shame from the part of Western media that the Turkey attacks did not generate the same wall-to-wall coverage that the airport bombing in Brussels spawned.
(Although, as I researched for this article I discovered an attack in the Yemen capital of Aden killed 26 people of Friday — an event of which I was completely unaware).
While the execution was imperfect, at least Facebook was wise enough to understand that nobody ever gets “used” to these kind of attacks, whether or not the country, like Pakistan, has a much longer and entrenched history with terrorism.
A couple of weeks ago I was speaking with a friend and called the safety check system a gimmick. So ineffective and random it barely demanded our attention.
But maybe the Lahore deployment was a juncture, in which the tool moves from a Western-focussed artifice and becomes a truly useful tool to dampen the impact of panic and better help paramedics, police officers and hospitals handle the crisis.
Thoughts and prayers in Aden, Baghdad, Brussels, Lahore and anywhere affected by terrorism.
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