Facebook gets flak for Beirut-Paris ‘double standard’
Site’s “safety check” feature was implemented immediately after attack in Paris but not after bombing in Beirut.
Facebook’s decision to implement its “safety check” feature for the attacks in Paris, but not after bomb blasts in Beirut a day earlier, has prompted debate online.
Critics of the site accused it of valuing the lives of Western victims more than those in the Middle East and other regions, a charge disputed by others, who said there are other factors at play.
The company introduced the feature shortly after the coordinated attacks across Paris late on Friday, which left at least 129 people dead.
The function allowed users in the Paris region to “check-in” and let family members and friends know that they were safe.
The company had previously only implemented the use of the feature after natural disasters, such as the recent earthquake in Pakistan.
Social media users took issue with the decision and expressed anger that it had been used after the attacks in France, but not in Beirut where suicide bombers had killed at least 43 people a day earlier.
Both attacks were claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.
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In a post shared more than 10,000 times on Facebook, Lebanese blogger Joey Ayoub criticised the apparent disparity in reactions to the two sets of attacks, arguing that the deaths in Beirut did not seem to matter as much as the deaths in Paris.
“We don’t get a safe button on Facebook. ‘We’ don’t get late night statements from the most powerful men and women alive and millions of online users.
“It’s a hard thing to realise that for all that was said … most of us members of this curious species, are still excluded from the dominant concerns of the world,” Ayoub wrote.
Ayoub was not alone in his criticism, with many users on Twitter asking why Facebook had not used the feature in Lebanon.
However, criticism of Facebook was far from universal, Al Jazeera spoke to Lebanese journalist Doja Daoud, who said that the “safety check” function would not have been as useful in Beirut as it was in Paris.
“It can be practical at a point, but we have to put in mind that in Lebanon, and in case of bombings, rain, explosions, protests, the mobile connectivity goes out, so I think people won’t really be able to connect to Facebook to check in,” she said.
Daoud said Lebanon could not be directly compared to France because it had a more tumultuous recent history.
“In Lebanon we experience war and its consequences more than French people do.
“This is a humanitarian thing, the same terrorism that kills Lebanese people, Iraqis and Syrians, killed the French,” Daoud said.
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Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and CEO, has addressed the criticism, telling users they were right to ask why “safety check” was used in one instance but not the other.
“Until yesterday, 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 wrote on a post on the Facebook website.
“We care about all people equally, and we will work hard to help people suffering in as many of these situations as we can.”
Facebook also introduced a feature allowing users to place an overlay of the French flag on their display pictures to express solidarity with the attack, a move that has also attracted criticism online.
I do see this as Facebook attempting to insert itself at the heart of world events by providing a false sense of connectivity and empathy through changing a profile picture or 'checking in' after a disaster.
Al Jazeera contacted Facebook to ask why the option to add flags to profile pictures had not been offered for previous attacks in other countries, but had not received a response at the time of publication.
Pakistani writer Bina Shah said the “safety check” feature had been used after an earthquake in Pakistan last month and the feature was one way the company was exploring to insert its utility further into its users’ lives.
“I don’t quite think they’ve got the strategy or policy completely thought through, which is why we see inconsistency in where it’s being made available… They probably also calculated that they have more users in France or affected by the Paris attacks than the Beirut bombings,” she said.
Shah said that employees of Facebook would generally be more likely to have visited Paris than Beirut, which had the effect of making the attacks feel “more personal and more visceral”.
“Of course the undercurrent of resentment that Western lives are more valued than non-Western ones runs underneath this issue, but I wouldn’t be so quick to ascribe that feeling to this situation.
“However I do see this as Facebook attempting to insert itself at the heart of world events by providing a false sense of connectivity and empathy through changing a profile picture or ‘checking in’ after a disaster, which is more troublesome to me,” Shah said.
Follow Shafik Mandhai on Twitter: @shafikfm