Facebook plans to make its safety check feature available “whenever and wherever it can help,” said the company’s VP of growth Alex Schultz Sunday. Schultz used a post on Facebook to respond to critics who had pointed out that Facebook made the safety check feature available in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris, but not a bombing in Beirut that killed more than 40 people the day prior.
On Friday, Facebook used its apps and website to reach out to millions of its users in and around Paris, asking them to mark themselves as safe if they were left unharmed by the attacks. The social network then informed those users’ friends and contacts about their status. The safety check feature was used by 4.1 million people to mark themselves as safe and alerted 360 million people about their friends’ status within the first 24 hours after the attacks, according to Facebook.
Schultz said Sunday that Facebook had originally developed the feature for natural disasters, and refined it over time to eliminate spam and deal with load issues. “Safety Check is a relatively new feature for us, we’re still understanding how it can best be used and in what instances,” he said, adding: “We chose to activate Safety Check in Paris because we observed a lot of activity on Facebook as the events were unfolding.”
The Paris attacks represented the first time for Facebook to use the tool for something that wasn’t 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,” Schultz said. He added that the tragedy is prompting Facebook to change its policies around safety check, with the goal of making it available in similar situations in the future, regardless of the location. “Safety Check remains a work in progress, but one that has helped many people stay in touch with their friends and family during difficult times,” he said