Following a series of backlash and criticisms, the largest social network, Facebook Inc. announced on Tuesday that it was expanding its local alert tool to provide users with life-saving information in time of emergencies.
Along with other social media companies, Facebook has absorbed a barrage of international criticisms on front covers of numerous media outlets for the way its platform has fostered the spread of conspiracy theories, false news and extremist views. The platform is now seeking ways to improve its dented public image and revamp its reputation as a network that frowns at the spread of misinformation.
The tool which began testing last year in 300 cities including Charlotte, St. Louis and Miami intends to provide useful information to users caught up in events such as a mass shooting and an extreme weather condition.
There is an existing tool on Facebook called Safety Check which offers the ability to users inform their friends about their safety in the event of an occurrence during emergencies. The social network says it wants to expand this feature by offering more.
The Local Alerts feature gives Facebook account holders in the local government and first responders such as the police and fire department, the ability to quickly send out messages that can be easily spread across the platform.
However, it remains unclear if the Local Alert tool has created any major difference in an emergency situation. Facebook declined to share instances, citing user privacy as a major concern. It was said that the speed at which a content or information can spread or go viral is solely dependent on the account holders.
Reuters cited an example using an incidence that happened at a university in North Carolina.
“When a disgruntled student opened fire during the last day of classes at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in April, the City of Charlotte Government’s Facebook page sent a Local Alert notifying nearby residents when it was safe to return.”
Reuters also mentioned that some local authorities confirmed that they were using Local Alert along with other emergency services to warn citizens of danger. A police department in Tennessee said they used a combination of emergency services- text message, Facebook Local alert, and posts on local community media service to send emergency notifications to citizens.
They also confirmed that the tool had been helpful in the time of an atrocious weather, missing persons and road closures.