Facebook Catches Criticism for Rolling Out Safety Check for Paris but Not Beirut

'People have rightfully asked why,' Zuckerberg says

Headshot of Christopher Heine

Facebook sparked consternation over the weekend when it activated features to support Paris but not Beirut, Lebanon, following two devastating terrorist attacks on those cities. 

The social-media network offered a filter that let people overlay an image of the French flag on their profile pictures, in a show of solidarity following the deadly Paris attacks that jarred the European country Friday. More importantly, the Menlo Park, Calif.-based tech giant also implemented a Safety Check service that allowed users in Paris to show their friends and family they were OK. 

Social-media users were fairly quick to point out that Facebook did not respond with a social-solidarity tool or safety check-in after a terrorist attack killed dozens of people and injured 200 more in Beirut. 

In a blog post Saturday, Facebook said the Paris attacks marked the first time the company had used Safety Check for a non-natural disaster. And it suggested it would use the feature for any future attacks.

Facebook's Safety Check debuted in 2011 when Tokyo, Japan, was besieged by a tsunami and nuclear disaster. The system has been more recently deployed for earthquakes in Afghanistan, Chile and Nepal as well as Tropical Cyclone Pam in the South Pacific and Typhoon Hagupit in the Philippines. 

According to Facebook, 24 hours after it activated Safety Check for Paris, 4.1 million people marked themselves safe and 360 million folks were notified. 

"We want this tool to be available whenever and wherever it can help," wrote Alex Schultz, the platform's vp of growth. "We will learn a lot from feedback on this launch, and we'll also continue to explore how we can help people show support for the things they care about through their Facebook profiles, which we did in the case for Paris, too."

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg offered a similar explanation on his personal Facebook page. "Many people have rightfully asked why we turned on Safety Check for Paris but not for bombings in Beirut and other places," he wrote. "Until [Friday], 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."

Designers step in to fill the void

Facebook's photo filter was a particularly popular feature as users rushed to show their support for France in the hours after the attacks. Why the platform hasn't offered a similar option for Lebanon hasn't been explained.

If you want to show your solidarity with the people of Beirut, at least a couple developers have created work-arounds. 

Vietnam-based designer Hubert Southall has been accepting direct requests to overlay Lebanon's flag on Facebook pictures since last week, and he's offering the same service for Iraq and Kenya—which have also been devastated by large-scale tragedies in recent months. 

"I am struggling to keep up," Southall said, according to Digital Trends. "I've had requests from thousands of people from over 30 countries. People want a way to support without exclusion. I think it'd be great if all designers offer their services on Facebook to help out. Adding a filter over someone's picture takes about 10 seconds to do."

Additionally, LunaPic has created a system where Facebook users can overlay any flag from around the world onto their profile pics. Many are combining the French and Lebanese flags together for their social profiles. 

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.