Facebook enabled its “Safety Check” feature after a deadly suicide blast killed more than 30 people on Tuesday at a vegetable market in Yola, Nigeria. Facebook users in the vicinity of the bombing can respond to a message, letting the service know if they are safe; the response is then sent as a notification to the users’ friends.
The Yola Safety Check is the second time Facebook has turned on the service for something other than a natural disaster, following the first such use during the Paris events of November 13, 2015. Facebook reported 4.1 million people in the Paris area used the service to notify others that they were safe.
Safety Check, which also lets people mark their friends who are known to be in an affected area as safe, was introduced in 2014, following an early version developed after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The service was last used after the Nepal earthquake in April. The Paris attacks, however, marked the first time Facebook has activated the service for a human-caused atrocity rather than a natural disaster.
According to Mashable, the Yola bombing is the quickest Facebook has turned the service on. It follows recent criticism of the social network for not activating the service after two suicide bombings in Beirut that killed more than 40 people, which had occurred a day before the Paris attacks. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg addressed the issue, saying that until the incident in France, company policy dictated that the relatively new service be used only for natural disasters. But moving forward, Facebook will address human conflicts as well.
“After the Paris attacks last week, we made the decision to use Safety Check for more tragic events like this going forward,” Zuckerberg wrote. “We’re now working quickly to develop criteria for the new policy and determine when and how this service can be most useful.”
“We chose to activate Safety Check in Paris because we observed a lot of activity on Facebook as the events were unfolding. In the middle of a complex, uncertain situation affecting many people,” Facebook Vice President Alex Schultz wrote in a Facebook post after the Paris events. “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.”
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari had visited Yola only a few days prior to the bombing, according to the BBC, where he declared the militant group Boko Haram as “close to defeat.” The Tuesday blast struck as the market was closing, and along with the dead, more than 80 people have been taken to the hospital. It’s the second time Yola has been hit by extremists, and Boko Haram is suspected of carrying out the attacks.