Facebook has been left scrambling after being criticised for activating its ‘safety check’ feature for the Paris terrorist attacks, where 129 people died, but turning a blind-eye to bombing in Beirut, where 43 people died and 200 were injured.
The safety check feature is a notification which marks users as ‘safe’ if they are directly affected by natural disasters. This is the first time the safety check has been extended to terrorist attacks.
The decision to focus on Paris but not Beirut was attacked over Twitter and blogs. A Lebanese doctor, Elie Fares, wrote a blog post which has been picked up by publications like The New York Times, The Huffington Post and BBC UK.
“When my people died on the streets of Beirut on November 12th, world leaders did not rise in condemnation,” said Fares.
“There were no statements expressing sympathy with the Lebanese people. There was no global outrage that innocent people whose only fault was being somewhere at the wrong place and time should never have to go that way or that their families should never be broken that way or that someone’s sect or political background should never be a hyphen before feeling horrified at how their corpses burned on cement.”
I must admit that I’m a little confused as to why Safety Check was enabled in Paris and not in Beirut.
— Eleanor Saitta (@Dymaxion) November 14, 2015
And to answer many comments: yes, global outrage is selective. No Facebook safety check or Obama address for #Beirut yesterday.Sad but true.
— Mohamed El Dahshan (@eldahshan) November 14, 2015
— Sari al-Khalili (@Sari_AlKhalili) November 14, 2015
Yes, why don’t we? Hey zuckerberg, we are a small country in the med. just next to Palestine and Syria … https://t.co/N21y9QaEaa
— Sonya Sabbah (@SonyaSEtiq) November 14, 2015
Apparently Beirut doesn’t deserve a safety check on Facebook.
— DenniS the menace (@densection) November 15, 2015
Facebook sets up safety check for Paris friends.Thank you #facebook for this great initiative but what about Beirut and Syria…
— Samira Hamana (@SamiraHamana) November 14, 2015
Alex Schultz, vice president of growth at Facebook, posted an explanation of Safety Check in Paris. “People are also asking why we turned on Safety Check in Paris and not other parts of the world, where violence is more common and terrible things happen with distressing frequency. Thursday’s tragedy in Beirut is one recent example.
“We chose to activate Safety Check in Paris because we observed a lot of activity on Facebook as the events were unfolding.
“So we made the decision to try something we’ve never done before: activating Safety Check for something other than 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.”
Facebook’s CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg, who liked Schultz’s post, expanded on Facebook’s explanation in his own post:
“Many people have rightfully asked why we turned on Safety Check for Paris but not for bombings in Beirut and other places.
“Until yesterday, our policy was only to activate Safety Check for natural disasters. We just changed this and now plan to activate Safety Check for more human disasters going forward as well.
“Thank you to everyone who has reached out with questions and concerns about this. You are right that there are many other important conflicts in the world.”