Facebook's Safety Check feature has been useful in keeping friends informed about their friends and loved ones in times of crisis. Unfortunately, it can also be led astray by false news. On December 26, 2016, the Safety Check alerted Facebook users of an explosion in Bangkok, Thailand.
But there was no explosion.
The links about this explosion redirected users to reports of a 2015 incident. But, really, Facebook activated the Safety Check in response to an incident reported by the local media, although details are sketchy at best. Apparently "a protester did toss several "ping pong bombs," which are home-made firecrackers, from the roof of Government House, according to according to The Nation, a Bangkok-based media outlet.
But no one was injured. The local authorities were able to bring the protester down and question him. Eventually, they sent him home.
So why all the fuss? Why spread false alarm?
“Safety Check was activated today in Thailand following an explosion. As with all Safety Check activations, Facebook relies on a trusted third party to first confirm the incident and then on the community to use the tool and share with friends and family," Facebook wrote in a statement to Mashable.
This statement still does not explain why Facebook did not check its own sources. Anyone who clicked through the posted link would see the news was not only a year old but actually from the Bangkok Informer and disguised as a BBC News article.
It makes us wonder if Facebook is even aware of the panic its interface has caused. Instead of reassuring friends and family that they are safe, users with loved ones in or around Thailand were thrown into "unnecessary panic."
Facebook may rely on third party sources to keep them informed, but many Facebook users rely on social media to stay current. Shouldn't our social platforms stay vigilant about false reports just as much as we do? If Facebook relies on "trusted third parties" to confirm their news, how are we supposed to trust Facebook?