Safety Check and Temporary Facebook Profiles

Should Facebook have introduced “Safety Check” and “Temporary Profiles” for not only for France but also Beirut, Syria or Kenya?


It’s Monday afternoon. Fewer than three days ago the city of Paris was thrown into chaos. Many people were killed, many more were injured. And today, Mark Zuckerberg changed his profile picture back to an unfiltered one after spending the weekend paying tribute to the French people with a temporary overlay of the country’s flag.

On Friday night following the attacks, Facebook switched on two lesser-known features: Safety Check and Temporary Profiles. The former was a way for people in Paris to let family and friends know they were safe; the latter splashed an overlay of the French flag on top of profile pictures. (I’ve seen the same effect offered to me on certain weekends asking if I want a green and yellow filter to show my enthusiasm for the University of Oregon Ducks.)

Almost immediately, the check-ins and red, white, and blue profile pictures rolled in. It was automatic, really: If someone asked you to participate in something meant to ease the pain and worry of a crisis, you would say yes. So people checked in and other people talked about it and yes, people changed their profile photos.

And then people started asking questions: Why wasn’t Safety check turned on for the people of Beirut, where suicide bombings Thursday killed 43? Or Syria? Or Kenya? Why weren’t there temporary flag filters for these countries, similarly ravaged by tragedy? What was it that set Paris apart?

Zuckerberg responded in part (only addressing the Safety Check feature oversight) on Saturday, in a comment on his own enhanced profile picture:

“Until yesterday, our policy was only to activate Safety Check for natural disasters,” Zuckerberg wrote. “We just changed this and now plan to activate Safety Check for more human disasters going forward as well … We care about all people equally, and we will work hard to help people suffering in as many of these situations as we can.”

But how Facebook plans to create parity when it comes to caring is at the moment tough to gauge.

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