“I’m Safe”. Just what you wanted to hear.
In recent years it’s been noted that, despite almost everyone having mobile phones, it’s still incredibly difficult to get information in and out from a disaster area. Some startups have developed apps that use mesh networks to communicate between mobile users, such as Firechat and Serval. But there is more that can be done to connect the people within a disaster area with the rest of the world, and to get help to the people in need.
Meanwhile, Facebook has really moved on from being just a place to poke your friends and play Farmville, although many people haven’t quite realized that yet. Have you noticed Facebook’s disaster efforts? Let’s take a look.
If you’ve ever seen the “I’m Safe” reports from people, you’ve seen Facebook’s Safety Check in action. The idea is to get information from the disaster area back to loved ones as quickly as possible. It works by asking people in the area to make a quick declaration, either to say “I’m Safe” or “I’m not in the area”. This message will be shown to your friends only.
If you were near a disaster area, the safety check would look like a simple couple of buttons for you to choose from. It pops up wherever you’re logged in to Facebook, whether it’s your phone, tablet or browser.
On mobile apps, it even has a push notification to get you to respond straight away. The following video shows how quickly you can respond, and how your friends will see the update in their notifications. Anyone who knows someone in the area can see the list of friends affected at a glance, and instantly check who has not marked themselves as safe yet.
It all began after the 2011 tsunami in Japan. Facebook engineers there realized that Facebook could be a valuable tool in reconnecting people after a major disaster. A year later they launched the Disaster Message Board, which has since evolved into Facebook’s Safety Check feature. During Hurricane Sandy in 2012 it was Twitter’s efforts that helped people connect during the disaster, which is perhaps why Facebook stepped up its game.
Most recently the Safety Check was deployed to people in Nepal and surrounding areas, such as Bangladesh, India and Bhutan. In the case of the Nepal earthquakes, within days millions of people were marked as safe, while tens of millions of people were instantly alerted via Facebook that their friends were safe.
Fundraising For Survivors
But connecting people is not all that Facebook is doing during disasters. They realize that the Internet can be a great force for social good, so they’re also using their platform and resources to help raise relief efforts.
This method of fundraising has multiple things going for it, and it marks a sort of coming-of-age for Facebook. Facebook is now truly using its platform for social good.
For starters, Facebook makes it easy to pay for things, and people worldwide have come to trust Facebook’s payment services. This can’t be said for a lot of the sites that spring up asking for fundraising donations, especially if they’re a local organisation to the disaster that’s not globally recognized.
The staff behind Facebook have ample resources available to them and so they can be sure they select a relief fund that is trustworthy and will make a real difference to the people in the disaster zone. Smaller companies find it harder to make a good decision when it comes to which charity to support.
With people using Facebook every day, the amount of people who know about their fundraising efforts is enormous. The prompt to donate to the latest disaster area is made prominent and will therefore be seen by everyone using the service.
The viral nature of Facebook means that whenever someone donates to an emergency fund via Facebook, all their friends are notified of the act. This serves to encourage other people to donate as well, and almost makes you feel a little guilty if you don’t. Especially so, since everyone will know you haven’t donated through Facebook yet. It’s a lot more useful than your everyday hashtag activism, as people know that you’ve actually done something to help, and they can too with just a couple of clicks.
Finally, Facebook themselves have a lot of money to donate to relief efforts, so they are able to use financial incentives to encourage users to donate more money. For the Nepal earthquakes, Facebook are offering to match every dollar donated up to $2 million.
Have You Donated?
Facebook has a dedicated page to make it easy to donate to the survivors of the Nepal earthquake. Have you donated yet? Was it via Facebook or another method?
What do you think of Facebook’s disaster efforts? What do you think they could improve on?