SAN FRANCISCO — In emergencies, we turn to social media to connect with loved ones and provide assistance, but information is often dispersed across multiple platforms, and finding aid can be difficult.
Facebook hopes its new tool can be a one-stop-shop for people in natural disasters or emergency situations. It’s geared both for people who are looking for help and those who are offering it.
Now, Safety Check can be used for organizing a community response offline. People can mark themselves as safe on Facebook and then visit the emergency’s Community Help page to see what people need or offer things like housing, food or transportation.
Safety Check is activated automatically when enough people on Facebook in the same geographic area talk about an emergency.
The company is first alerted to emergencies through third-party crisis reporting organizations. Facebook then tracks the conversation around the emergency in the location where it happened. If enough people post about it, Safety Check is activated, and people in the area are alerted to mark themselves as safe.
Following the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks, people used social media to offer housing to strangers. More than 4 million people marked themselves safe in Paris on Facebook, according to the company.
Community Help will feature about 10 different aid categories, including food, supplies, shelter and transportation.
Let’s say Mary marked herself as safe during a flood, but needs a place to stay temporarily. She can visit the flood’s Community Help page through Safety Check, and tap “shelter” to find a place to stay. She might see a post from John offering an extra room. If they have any mutual friends in common, they’ll appear under John’s post. Mary can message John via Facebook, or comment on his post, to ask for help.
A map at the top of each category plots where posts are shared, so people can find what’s closest to them.
Facebook won’t vet the posts, meaning people will often be placing trust in those they don’t know. However, the company will prevent users under 18 and those with brand new accounts from requesting or offering help. People can report posts they feel could be threatening or unsafe.
The new tool also makes it easy for people to mark whether they’ve received help, or if it’s no longer available.
Community Help is rolling out on Wednesday in a handful of countries including the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and India. Facebook says it plans to expand to more countries in the future.