Facebook Safety Check was activated for a terrorist attack for the first time during the Paris attacks, enabling people to let their loved ones know that they were safe.
The social network stated that it would consider using the Facebook Safety Check – which has been formerly restricted for use in natural disasters – more widely after criticism in failing to activate the tool after the terrorist attacks in Beirut in Thursday.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook chief executive, stated that until Sunday, their policy was to only activate Facebook Safety Check for natural disasters. He added that this has just now been changed and they plan to activate Facebook Safety Check for human disasters as well from now on.
Facebook’s vice president for growth, Alex Schultz, stated that they decided to activate Facebook Safety Check in Paris because they saw a lot of activity on Facebook as the events were happening.
Facebook Safety Check, which aims to assist people in making contact and reassuring family and friends, is just one part of a broadening role in crisis response for technology.
Flood of Support
The Paris attacks over the weekend saw users use Twitter to assist people stranded in the aftermath find shelter, with the #PorteOuverte hashtag being used in millions of Tweets. Hundreds more used the #TerrorismHasNoReligion hashtag to send messages of support, which result it in trending. Others applied Facebook’s flag-overlay feature to update their profile pictures and demonstrate support with the Tricolore.
Using Twitter as part of its manhunt, French police circulated pictures of the attackers, while news of the Paris attacks rapidly spread across social media.
At the same time, other technology companies tried to help those caught up in the chaos as well. Skype, Google Hangouts, and several mobile phone providers also provided free phone calls from the US and other parts of the world to Paris to assist people in coordinating and making contact with those on the ground.
Uber, the taxi firm, also switched off its surge pricing system, which increases the prices of journeys when supply of drivers is short, for France within 30 minutes of the first attack. Uber also sent out alerts to users letting them know what happened and forwarding police warnings to avoid unnecessary travel.
Airbnb cancelled its Parisian conference and got in touch with its users based in Paris requesting them to open up their homes to those affected by the Paris attacks, cancelling service charges and trying to connect those who were able to provide shelter with those in need of it.
Technology can play an effective role in crisis response, as seen with the response to the attacks, assisting people to come together in a positive manner, coordinate aid, provide shelter for those caught in the violence and show support.