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

Heads up.
Heads up.
Image: Quartz
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Facebook’s Safety Check encourages people to let friends and family know they’re safe after a dangerous incident, such as a natural disaster or terrorist bombing. It 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, a Facebook spokesperson said, “we activated Safety Check today in Lahore, Pakistan, after a bombing that took place there. Unfortunately, many people not affected by the crisis received a notification asking if they were okay. We worked to resolve the issue and we apologize to anyone who mistakenly received the notification.”

A post from the company’s disaster response team noted that “this kind of bug is counter to the product’s intent.”

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.