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Facebook's erroneous “safety check” accidentally became a breaking news alert

Facebook’s erroneous “safety check” accidentally became a breaking news alert

Facebook’s Safety Check encourages people to check in after a dangerous incident, such as a natural disaster or terrorist bombing, in order to let friends and family know they’re safe. The feature should request check-ins from people near the incident, but right now, it seems to be alerting people around the world.

Facebook turned on the feature after a deadly bombing at a children’s park in Pakistan today (March 27), and people nowhere nearby, or even near Pakistan, started receiving notifications. Several Quartz staffers in New York city received alerts, and people from around the world have mentioned the mistaken prompts on Twitter. There have been tweets from users whose listed locations include South Africa, Nepal, Canada, and the US.

In a statement to Quartz, Facebook said, “We have activated Safety Check in Lahore. We apologize to anyone who mistakenly received a notification outside of Pakistan and are working to resolve the issue.”

Facebook has come under fire for Safety Check before, though not because it was malfunctioning. The company was accused of betraying bias as it chose when to turn on the feature. While Facebook activated it after the attacks in Paris, it had not for the Beirut bombings that took place a day earlier. The company said it was working to address the problem, but discrepancies continue to pop up. Recently, it asked users in Ankara, Turkey, to check in after a bombing there, but neglected to do the same when a gunman opened fire in a resort town in Côte d’Ivoire, killing 16 people.

By pinging people nowhere near the bombing today in Pakistan, however, it did unintentionally demonstrate Facebook’s power as a media platform.