In a disheartening reminder of how many lives have been lost in the past week, Facebook has activated its Safety Check feature in Nigeria, following a bombing that killed more than 32 people. Safety Check allows individuals located in areas where a disaster has occurred to quickly tell family and friends that they are safe, without making phone calls or sending text messages.
The bombings, believed to have been executed by the extremist group Boko Haram on Tuesday, led to a post by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that explained how Safety Check would be used going forward:
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.
Unfortunately, these kinds of events are all too common, so I won’t post about all of them. A loss of human life anywhere is a tragedy, and we’re committed to doing our part to help people in more of these situations.
But because nothing happens in a vacuum, especially in the tech industry, the use of Safety Check feature follows Facebook being criticized for not using it during a recent ISIS-attributed bombing in Beirut. Users were up in arms about the company’s seemingly arbitrary approach to which events were worthy of Safety Check, with some making allegations of double standards. The attacks that took place in Paris last Friday were the first man-made disasters for which Facebook deployed the feature; it had previously only been used for natural disasters like the Nepal earthquake.
The controversy over Safety Check–and Zuckerberg’s announcement that Facebook is developing criteria for how to use it–is another indicator of how essential the social network has become in 2015.
Features like Safety Check and the French flag filter offered by Facebook are seen as emotional validation or gestures of solidarity by its users, but Facebook also operates across the world, and has many users who may be impacted by events far removed from Silicon Valley or Europe. For Facebook, globalization also means serving as an emotional proxy for the world’s tragedies–and not just those that happen to dominate the news cycle in the U.S.
Fast Company has reached out to Facebook for more information on its Safety Check criteria, and will update this article as needed.