Lebanese Students Speak On Facebook Safety Check Controversy

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Students hold the flags of Lebanon and France during a vigil on Nov. 16, in remembrance of those who lost their lives in the recent terrorist attacks. Lebanese students expressed concerns that Facebook  only had safety notifications for those who had relatives and friends in Paris and not in Beirut and other places where attacks occurred. Photo by Ahmad Krecht, Vice President of the Lebanese American Society.
Students hold the flags of Lebanon and France during a vigil on Nov. 16, in remembrance of those who lost their lives in the recent terrorist attacks. Lebanese students expressed concerns that Facebook only had safety notifications for those who had relatives and friends in Paris and not in Beirut and other places where attacks occurred. Photo courtesy of Ahmad Krecht.

After the Paris attacks on Nov. 13, many people received Facebook notifications about friends and family who were in the city and marked safe. While this brought peace-of-mind to some, for those who had close ties to Lebanon, it brought about anger.

Facebook began using safety notifications in 2014 so users could notify their friends that they were safe in the wake of a natural disaster.

The tool had never been used for anything other than a natural disaster prior to Paris, and Facebook used the event to test it for other crisis situations such as terrorist attacks.

The executive board members of the Lebanese American Society at the University of Florida met on Monday, November 16  to discuss the matter in the wake of the accidents.

“It goes without saying that solidarity with the French is a great thing. But why such compassion for Parisians, but not for victims of similar attacks, in Lebanon, Turkey, Kenya, etc,” according to the board.

Dara Rakem, a UF student from Paris, said she received over 100 notifications after the attack about the status of her close friends and family who live thousands of miles away.

“I found it helpful because you can’t talk to everyone,” she said. “I’m so far away and couldn’t text everyone individually.”

While this feature received a lot of praise because of how quickly it notified Facebook members, it has also caught a lot of criticism because only a day earlier there was an attack in Beirut. The Beirut attacks left 43 people dead and no Facebook notification for the survivors.

“I found it sad that everyone talked about Paris and none of the other events,” Rakem said.

Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Facebook, took to his personal page to discuss the matter.

“Until yesterday [Nov. 13], 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,” he said in his post.

The executive board of LAA said they did not think the matter was so much about Facebook as it was about the Western world’s disconnect with less-developed nations.

“Simply, the attacks are an inconvenience to typical American’s notion of the romantic city of Paris,” according to the board. “The attacks in Paris are more inconvenient to the average American than attacks in other cities, like Beirut.”

According to the board, the most viable solution to this problem is for members of differing communities to reach out and get to know others.

“The state of fear affecting Parisians is the state that many people in places, like Syria and Iraq, live with everyday. We come to realize that regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or location, we are not that different after all,” according to the board.

About Kat Anthony

Kat is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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