Facebook is being criticized for not activating Safety Check during the Côte d’Ivoire attack

A soldier stands over a person killed on a beach after an attack in Grand Bassam, Ivory Coast.
A soldier stands over a person killed on a beach after an attack in Grand Bassam, Ivory Coast.
Image: Reuters/Joe Penney
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This post has been updated.

Facebook users are questioning why the company apparently failed to turn on its Safety Check feature after an attack in Côte d’Ivoire on Sunday, the latest in a series of controversies over the way the tool has been implemented.

Dozens of people were killed in two separate attacks on civilians on Sunday (Mar. 13). Turkey’s capital Ankara was hit by a car explosion in which 37 people died, according to authorities. And in Côte d’Ivoire, gunmen killed 16 when they opened fire on beachgoers in Grand Bassam, a resort town near the country’s capital city Abidjan. Facebook activated Safety Check for users in Ankara but didn’t appear to do so for people in Abidjan.

The Safety Check location tool was built in the wake of the 2011 tsunami in Japan and officially launched to users in 2014. The feature allows users to “check-in” and assure their followers that they are safe in a disaster area. It has only been activated by Facebook a handful of times, primarily in the aftermath of a natural disaster.

After Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg posted on her page Sunday that the tool had been activated for people in Ankara, several users inquired whether it was available for those near Grand Bassam as well.

Sandra Grindgärds, who according to her Facebook profile works for the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI), wrote that she was able to locate her group of friends without the feature but that the tool “would have been useful.” User Brahima Bilali commented that ”a terrorist attack happened in my country Ivory Coast as well! You have to activate that Safety Check wherever these terrorist attacks happened.” Meanwhile, Leona Frank asked, “will you switch it on for those caught up in the attacks in Grand Bassam in Ivory Coast, too? I wish to know if my friends and family are safe no matter where in the world something’s happening, not just when Western lives are likely to be impacted.”

Reached for comment, Facebook did not respond to specific questions regarding the activation of the Safety Check feature in Côte d’Ivoire.

This is not the first time the company has come under fire for their selective use of the Safety Check tool. Last November, the networking site activated the feature for attacks in Paris in which more than 130 people died, the first time it did so for a terrorist event. But some questioned why the tool had been used for Paris and not Lebanon’s capital city Beirut, which had been hit by suicide bombings the previous day which killed 43 people.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg responded to the criticism at the time by promising users that the company would “work hard to help people suffering in as many of these situations as we can.” And a few days later the platform activated the feature for residents of Yola in northeastern Nigeria, after 30 people died in a suspected attack by the militant group Boko Haram.

But the criticism of inconsistency surfaced once again in January when the tool was not activated after suicide explosions targeted Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta.

Alex Schultz, vice president of growth, said last year that in its current form, the tool was not useful in every disaster situation, acknowledging that “Safety Check remains a work in progress.”

This post has been updated to include Facebook’s response.