Facebook, for all of its flaws, still remains a remarkably good way of communicating with friends and family members. With this in mind, Facebook has been working on a new feature for its massive social network which aims to help people send out a brief message of safety following natural disasters.
Called ‘Safety Check’, this new function enables a user to let his or her family and friends know that they are safe, and have survived a disaster in their area. Facebook explains in a blog post:
In times of disaster or crisis, people turn to Facebook to check on loved ones and get updates. It is in these moments that communication is most critical both for people in the affected areas and for their friends and families anxious for news. We want to provide a helpful tool that people can use when major disasters strike, so we’ve created Safety Check – a simple and easy way to say you’re safe and check on others.
The new function first identifies whether a user was in the area of natural disaster when it occurred, through their posted data, and tagged locations. It then prompts a user to send a message (via a specialised post) stating that they have survived the disaster and are now relatively safe. In addition, if the user is not in the location of the disaster, they have the option to select this, resulting in no information being posted to Facebook.
A rudimentary version of this system was first tested by the company following the devastating 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake in Japan. Then, the company built a ‘disaster message board’ enabling users to check in and tell their friends they were safe. The new system streamlines this functionality, and will be deployed across a wide variety of natural disasters, including, floods, fires, storms, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
The problem with this system is that it relies on internet connections in order for a user to report their safety. In the wake of major disaster, often many users will be unable to reach Facebook due to internet and power lines being down. This could lead to a large amount of unnecessary worry about concerned Facebook friends who may become over-reliant on this service to confirm that somebody is ok.
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