Facebook’s Safety Check feature was activated for the first time in the U.S. to help people get in touch with their loved ones after the killings at an Orlando nightclub early Sunday.
US President Barack Obama said the incident that left at least 50 people dead is now being investigated as an “act of terrorism.”
First launched in 2014, Facebook’s tool helps users of the social network notify their friends and family about their safety if their location is in the vicinity of a disaster. The feature allows them to alert their loved ones with the click of a button.
Over the last few months, Facebook has been working on improving the launch process of Safety Check, making it easier to activate the tool. For example, the deployment of the tool has become more automated so that teams across time zones can activate it without having to wait for an engineer to do it.
At the same time, Facebook is also testing new ways of allowing users identify and alert the social network about local crises that might need the activation of the tool.
“Following the community-generated Safety Check activation this morning in Orlando, we have now activated Facebook-initiated Safety Check for a mass shooting at a nightclub there. We hope the people in the area find the tool a helpful way to let their friends and family know they are okay,” a Facebook spokeswoman said on Sunday.
The Safety Check is yet another reminder of how violence levels have increased over the years. Just in 2017, the tool was activated 17 times compared to 11 instances over the past two years.
But it’s not just terrorist attacks that the Safety Check covers; initially, the feature was meant to assist users caught in the middle of natural disasters.
The most recent catastrophes that required the tool to be activated ranged from a cyclone in Bangladesh, earthquakes in Ecuador, to wildfire in Alberta, Canada, and flooding and landslides in Sri Lanka.
After the Paris attacks in November 2015, Facebook decided to include terror attacks on the list of disasters. The decision was prompted by the fact that “Facebook became a place where people were sharing information and looking to understand the condition of their loved ones.”
Image Source: Debka