After a suicide bombing in Lahore, in the Punjab province of Pakistan killed at least 60 people and left many more injured on Sunday, Facebook sent out a safety check to users in the area, asking them if they were okay. However, Facebook also sent that same safety check to many other users around the world who were far from the Gulshan-e-Iqbal park in Lashore where the explosion went off. Social media was abuzz with reports of people receiving the safety check in the United States, Lebanon, and the United Kingdom. Obviously, the Facebook safety check after the Pakistan blast targeted the wrong users — but in the grand scheme, that's not such a bad thing, is it?
Facebook's safety check feature was first developed after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Tōhoku, Japan. As Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg wrote when he announced the launch of Safety Check in Oct. 2014, "Safety Check is our way of helping our community during natural disasters and gives you an easy and simple way to say you’re safe and check on all your friends and family in one place."
The attacks in Paris on Nov. 13, 2015 marked the first time Safety Check was used during a terrorist attack, and since then, it has been activated five more times for acts of terror, according to Vocativ: once in Nigeria, twice in Turkey, once in Brussels, and now in Pakistan.
People reacted with anger, humor, fear, and disbelief at the error, which Facebook swiftly apologized for. "We have activated Safety Check in Lahore," a company spokesperson told Time. "We apologize to anyone who mistakenly received a notification outside of Pakistan and are working to resolve the issue." A later Facebook post by the Disaster Response division noted that the "bug was counter to [the company's] intent."
It's not the first time Facebook has come under fire for an issue related to Safety Check. After the Safety Check was activated during the Paris attacks, the world was outraged that it had not been activated just a few hours before, during the Beirut attacks that had left 40 dead. In a Facebook comment, Zuckerberg explained:
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. We care about all people equally, and we will work hard to help people suffering in as many of these situations as we can.
As with any and all innovations, Facebook is going to encounter problems and setbacks as it works to implement new technology. It's entirely understandable that some Facebook users felt a moment of panic when they saw a Safety Check unnecessarily pop up on their phones or computers, but it's a mistake we probably shouldn't be too hard on the company for.
Why? It's important to remember that Facebook is offering its 1.04 billion daily users a way to communicate their safety to loved ones during terrifying moments. In the past few months, I'm sure I'm not the only who has immediately logged onto Facebook to check on their friends in affected cities. If Facebook encounters a speed bump or two while making communication easier in difficult times, shouldn't that be forgivable?