Facebook Deploys ‘Safety Check’ for Nigerian Bombing, Skips Flag Overlay

Before Friday’s attacks in Paris, the safety feature was only used for natural disasters.
A market in Yola, Adamawa, Nigeria, on May 8. (Photo: Emmanuel Arewa/Getty Images)
Nov 18, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Amid alerts about tagged photos and event invitations, social media users might come across an update telling them that friends and family living in Nigeria are safe and sound.

Facebook deployed its “Safety Check” feature in Nigeria following bombings on Tuesday evening at a marketplace in Yola, the capital of northeastern state Adamawa in Nigeria. At least 32 people were killed and dozens more were injured, Reuters reported.

The feature prompts users in the affected area to “check in,” telling their friends and family that they are out of harm’s way after an emergency.

“Unfortunately, these kinds of events are all too common, so I won’t post about all of them,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a post regarding the decision to use the application. “A loss of human life anywhere is a tragedy, and we’re committed to doing our part to help people in more of these situations.”

Deployment of the feature in Nigeria comes on the heels of backlash over launching the same feature in Paris on Friday night. More than 4 million people used it to tell their loved ones they had survived the series of coordinated terrorist attacks on the French capital, but some social media users wondered why the feature was not utilized the day prior, when 43 people were killed during a pair of suicide bombings in Beirut.

Facebook officials acknowledged the controversy surrounding their decision to use the feature in Paris over the weekend, noting that in the midst of the confusion surrounding the multiple attacks, they felt they could provide a useful service to families searching for information.

The safety system was launched in 2014 and has been used during natural disasters such as Typhoon Ruby in the Philippines and the Nepal earthquake in April. Friday evening marked the first time the social media site used the safety feature for acts of violence rather than a natural disaster.

“After the Paris attacks last week, we made the decision to use Safety Check for more tragic events like this going forward,” Zuckerberg wrote on Tuesday evening. “We’re now working quickly to develop criteria for the new policy and determine when and how this service can be most useful.”

While those living near Yola can check in with their family, the social media site has not deployed its “flag filter option,” which allows users to show their support by updating their profile picture with the country’s colors. Facebook launched a temporary profile option using France’s tricolor flag overlay on Saturday following the Paris attacks.