Within hours of last night’s shooting in Dallas, Facebook users in the area were able to check in with the company’s Safety Check feature to let their friends and family know they were safe. But Facebook didn’t initiate the notification. “This Safety Check was turned on based on the Facebook activity of people in the affected area,” according to the service’s web page.
Amid controversy over how the company chose where and when to activate Safety Check, Facebook has decided to let users do it through a new feature called “community-generated Safety Check.” Introduced last month, the updated Safety Check now launches once a critical mass of users are discussing disasters on Facebook—like Trending Topics but for active crises. Facebook says the feature was used to activate Safety Check in Orlando, as well as last week after a massive truck bombing in Baghdad.
The new feature won’t bypass human moderators, and likely won’t eliminate concerns about how Facebook deploys Safety Check. While it initiated Safety Check hours after terror attacks in Istanbul and Dhaka, the company did not initiate it after the Baghdad bombing, citing a policy that it would not issue Safety Checks in active war zones. Instead, Facebook let the crowd do it, through the community-generated feature; but the notifications were sent out 30 hours after the bombing, leading to complaints on social media.
“The company is not in the emergency notification business,” says Timothy Coombs, a professor and crisis expert at Texas A&M University. “It is a sideline, not their core business, so we should not expect them to carefully sort through every global event. The community-based idea takes that decision making and responsibility out of their hands.”