Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Facebook’s Safety Check is a stress-inducing flip of social norms (techcrunch.com)
327 points by imartin2k on June 15, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 280 comments

I lived through a major natural disaster that left me an evacuee for months. Facebook's safety check is the only reason I haven't killed my account and I've said this before in prior comments here on Hacker News.


Thank god the author hasn't lived through an event where everybody you know is affected by the event. The ability to say "I'm okay", say it once, and have everybody you know on FB see it is a huge stress reducer. It cuts back on the number of "are you okay?" messages you receive during the event when you may not have a lot of battery or a lot of spare brain to dedicate to answering lots of bullshit inquiries.

If he's feeling stressed out because of FB opening the "I'm okay" service in that small area for that catastrophic fire, he's being a self centered jerk. I guarantee that FBs service is helping some poor soul mixed up in that mess.

Edit: The Facebook safety check feature is not unique to Facebook. In many ways it mimics Japan's disaster message board feature. Every teleco in Japan offers this service:


I really think the author has lived too lucky a life in a place that has not suffered overmuch from disasters. He can't see beyond his own narrow vision.

About 500 people were directly endangered by this incident. The Safety Check alert seems to extend well beyond Greater London, so at least 9 million people. That gives us an approximate false positive rate of 99.995%.

Is that reasonable or proportionate? Does it actually provide useful information? Is it likely to quell unfounded fears and provide genuine reassurance?

As tragic as this incident was, it affected a single building. Safety Check might be a useful feature in some very specific circumstances, but it's abundantly clear that Facebook is using it inappropriately. People hundreds of miles from the incident are having their profiles show "not marked as safe".

The article makes a quite reasonable point - that Safety Check strongly implies that "not safe" is the default, contrary to long-established social norms. Unless used very carefully, this feature could cause completely unnecessary fear; it is easy to envision a scenario where Safety Check could prompt a dangerous mass panic.

If this is a genuine public safety feature, if Facebook really are using Safety Check out of concern for their users welfare, then they should fully accept the concomitant responsibility. They should expend real resources to liaise with the relevant agencies and ensure that Safety Check is deployed only when appropriate, that it is accurately targeted and that it helps rather than hinders relief efforts.

If Facebook wish to rely on their usual excuses of "move fast and break stuff" and "it's not our fault, it's the algorithm", then we should see Safety Check in those terms - as a careless and cynical effort to boost engagement metrics.

"If this is a genuine public safety feature, if Facebook really are using Safety Check out of concern for their users welfare, then they should fully accept the concomitant responsibility. They should expend real resources to liaise with the relevant agencies and ensure that Safety Check is deployed only when appropriate, that it is accurately targeted and that it helps rather than hinders relief efforts. If Facebook wish to rely on their usual excuses of "move fast and break stuff" and "it's not our fault, it's the algorithm", then we should see Safety Check in those terms - as a careless and cynical effort to boost engagement metrics. "

100% agree. I think it's a well-intentioned effort gone wrong because the tuning is so off. I know a few engineers at Facebook who work on algorithms + related tooling, I'll make sure they see this.

Simple solution: have a "ask X if they're safe" button that friends/family can press. If someone presses it, that person gets a push to mark themselves safe. They don't get a push otherwise.

Actually, this button already exists [1].

[1]: https://www.facebook.com/help/516656825135759

That will have the flip side of family members getting extra worried if not marked safe, because Facebook wasn't checked for example.

I'm guessing most family members are most likely not going to ask the question on facebook instead of just call their loved ones or send a text or email. My personal line of thinking is (maybe check facebook if they're super active to see if they said they're ok). Send a text or email if I'm a little worried. Call if I'm very worried. After a text or call I wouldn't go back and push the ask button on FB.

You always had that though. And you can't automatically answer it for users from device activity because that would violate someone's privacy.

Excellent. I appreciate that. From my perspective well-intentioned is charitable for a social engineering platform. I have no doubt that is an accurate description for the vast majority of people involved, including the engineers you know, but this is almost a law of physics, it's too valuable to not be worth using; it's much more useful than old-school media: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ajes.2017.76.issu...

> About 500 people were directly endangered by this incident. The Safety Check alert seems to extend well beyond Greater London, so at least 9 million people. That gives us an approximate false positive rate of 99.995%.

I live in London but have friends around the world that haven't visited me yet and don't know where I live. After an event like yesterday I get a lot of messages asking if I'm ok, so using the safety check can help even though there was no remote risk that I could've been affected.

I think it's reasonable that the safety check area is that large, it helps for friends/family who don't know exactly where you are.

As a counter to that, I have friends in London and I didn't think to check in on them. Somebody would have called/texted/emailed if those friends were in trouble. As said above "no news is good news".

I'm puzzled by this idea that social norms were "safe by default" until social media came along. It's certainly not my experience. When some high-profile event happens in the area, people check in and worry if they don't hear from you. It's been like this since long before Facebook was a thing.

This looks like yet another case of nerds assuming the entire world thinks and acts like we do. Yes, worrying about someone just because they live in the same major city as a disaster that affects a couple hundred people is irrational. Yes, your adds of being killed by a bus while crossing the street are far greater. Yes, just about any event which makes the news is unlikely by definition. No, none of this actually influences how normal people think and act.

It Britain, the default is "no news is good news", which is a proverb meaning "without information to the contrary you can assume that all is well".

I hear that phrase a lot, but is that how it actually works when things like this happen, or is it just what people say?

I think when things like this happen, it usually falls under the category of "bad news is bad news" and people will want to reach out to friends/loved ones who may have been affected.

If my friend is going overseas for a month (and there aren't any terror attacks or plane crashes or whatever), I will probably assume they're doing just fine, haven't been mugged or gotten lost in the woods or anything unless I specifically hear otherwise.

Well put. "No news is good news" is predicated on no news. If nothing noteworthy happens then most people are fine with assuming you're doing fine until and unless they hear otherwise. But if some disaster (even a localized one) happens in the area where they know you are, that doesn't apply anymore.

That interpretation is actually at odds with my experience and how others have described it to me. I recall my mum describing the fear of receiving a telegram during the war. People would assure themselves nothing had happened to loved ones fighting because they had received no news. And when I myself was in London I think it was 7 7 bombings my family again assumed I wasn't caught up in it because they received no visit from the police. I didn't call until a long time after, despite evacuating the tube one stop from one of the bombs or something. Mind is fuzzy. Anyway, I think that is how the stiff upper lip stoic Brits are. Or were. Perhaps the modern generation are good for nothing self absorbed hugging kinds? Too much Anerican influence perhaps ;)

While it'll obviously depend on the people, this is what my parents basically said to me when I spoke to them a bit after the bombing in Manchester.

I probably wasn't involved, and they'd have heard if I was.

> No, none of this actually influences how normal people think and act.

Well that's bloody stupid and innumerate of them. Surely, enabling such vices can't be good in the long-term.

... and how, again, are these people able to acquire positions of power such that we still have to care-about/interact-with them?

Turns out that having a solid logical understanding of the risks of accidental death is more or less uncorrelated with having the sort of people skills which allow a person to attain positions of power.

But this points to not a specific misunderstanding of accidental death, but to a general inability to comprehend/apply statistics, which includes things such as cost/benefit analyses.

It's fascinating to see nerds weird out over people's inability to comprehend basic probability and statistics (which the human brain is innately bad at) while displaying a complete inability to understand other people (which the human brain is innately great at). And yes, I do it too sometimes.

Stop arguing about why the average person, or even the average powerful person, ought to have an excellent understanding of these things, and start exploring why they don't. You'll come out of it more informed.

I have to disagree. "Not safe" became the default as soon as the concept of social media hit; if there's the slightest chance you may have been affected by an incident, anyone who would check your social postings to see if there was any "word from you" would assume the worst in the absence of such a posting. The human mind is evolved for both empathy and "what-if" scenarios, but not for probability; it will snap to "what if my loved one was in that apartment because they were in the country" rather than "it is highly improbable." Given that, Safety Check actually dampens those emotions on a societal scale, by making it easier and more natural for each potentially-endangered poster to assuage the fears of people in their circles.

Safety Check wasn't a carefully planned and considered effort by Facebook, it was a hackathon project that went into production. There are many other ways that Facebook could have responded to that issue. Given the size, influence and profitability of Facebook, Safety Check seems extraordinarily half-assed.

I'm not in any way convinced that Safety Check does actually dampen fear. It provides information of very poor quality ("not marked as safe" or "safe") in a very poorly targeted way, without any kind of meaningful context. That kind of uncertainty is rarely reassuring.

If Facebook took the issue seriously, they could easily address many of these shortcomings. They could provide this kind of information in a relevant and contextual way, counteracting the cognitive biases that lead us to worry. They could deeply examine how social media can stoke fears and engineer reassurance into the fabric of their network, rather than bolting on a crude alert system that was hacked together in a weekend. I doubt that they will, because fear and misinformation is clearly very profitable for them in all sorts of ways.

I'm reminded of the AMBER Alert system - a well-meaning but highly ineffectual response that has greatly contributed to the climate of fear.

http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0887403407302332 http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0734016808316778

It's almost like the person finder Google made, except it pushes itself on you in an attempt to drive engagement.

That's not an unreasonable stance. I lean the other way. I think, that there is an opportunity, if not a requirement, for fine grained tuning. FB knows a lot about it's users, and can do a better job of predicting who needs the i'm safe button.

Clearly there's a geographic component. Someone in the area, around the time, or in the area regularly. There's probably a fancy combination of, how bad the event was, how widely the event was reported, how close you are to friends, are you traveling to the area, and a bunch of other factors.

Clearly they can handle it dynamically. If you get the "are you ok?" messages, they can add you to likely events, and offer the i'm safe. They can make it easy to add yourself to a disaster event.

There are a lot of people in London. They have the social graph, coupled with location and messaging data. They can do a better job at targeting.

Again, i respect your opinion, but your needs, and my needs are different. I think they can do a better job at meeting both of our needs.

Part of the problem is that peoples' worries depend not on what Facebook knows, but what those people know:

I, for example, know several people in London, but have no idea where in London exactly they life. Now I didn't actually worry because that just didn't make sense considering the numbers involved, but it seems like a very understandable, human mistake to still get alarmed.

That could mean displaying people safe without their input, based on location data. But that wouldn't have an impact on the problems the author is concerned about.

I think it's essentially a good feature, but this incident may just not have been a good fit.

The odds of any given event impacting someone you know is so small as to be incomprehensible. Do you get worried because you heard there was a shooting in a city and it might have included your friends? You probably don't, and before Facebook you wouldn't have given it a second thought. Your friends are more likely to get hit by a car or have a heart attack and you and Facebook would never know and that's ok. Those are the odds and we don't always have to be connected.

Yeah, it's a human mistake, but technology should be moving people away from animalistic fears and desires, not pushing them towards it. The easier thing to do would be to realize those odds and realize you can't control these things instead of relying on a social network as a crutch.

That may be cynical, but Facebook isn't doing this because they care about you, they're doing it because it's yet another way to get people attached so Facebook can make advertising dollars. That's cynical.

My grandfather has always (my mother has identical stories from when she was young) been deadly afraid when, on tv or newspaper, a city or even country was named and I was there. Like when I was in Seattle and in the news there was some big fire somewhere in the US, he would panic and start calling my mother.

My partner still get worried calls from her parents any time there ANY accident going on in the UK, and we live in London, so you might be underestimating the impulse of people worrying about their loved ones...

> technology should be moving people away from animalistic fears and desires, not pushing them towards it.

Do you have a suggestion for how that could be practically done?

> The easier thing to do would be to realize those odds and realize you can't control these things instead of relying on a social network as a crutch.

Easier? What the easy way you're suggesting for changing these attitudes and beliefs among the general population?

> I have to disagree. "Not safe" became the default as soon as the concept of social media hit;

FWIW, this wasn't the case in my (very large) extended family my entire childhood. Depending on how widespread coverage of the event was, a family member get calls or texts asking if I was okay whenever something dangerous happened

Not for everyone. Maybe "not safe" became the default for some social media users. If so, I feel sorry for you guys. Always needing to check in to assure your friends and family you're not dead seems like a chore with little upside. I can't imagine that that's actually true.

For those of us who do not use social media [yep, looks like I have to be "that guy" today], it's in no way the default. I can tell you that if people I know don't hear from me over social media, they are not going to bat an eye, because it is normal not to hear from me over social media.

It's an interesting question though: Does frequent use of something like Facebook lead to an expectation of future frequent use of it from your peers? I'm not sure if that's true. Try it as an experiment. Don't log into social media for 3 months. See how many "friends" actually try to contact you through some other means to check if you're OK. My guess is that fewer than you think will. I know when I jumped ship on social media, I just stopped logging in without telling anyone, and exactly zero people panicked. They just started E-mailing me when they had something to say.

You could also just post on Facebook, "I'm okay, I survived [the event]" if you would find value in telling all your friends. Why does Facebook need to prompt?

Unfortunately, you can't trust Facebook to actually show your posts to other people. Their "algorithm" - a cancerous wart that has infected Instagram too now - means that they show you what they want to show you, not necessarily what your friends post.

If your friends don't care to check on you personally, why do you think that they care about your post (that you say you're fine) that doesn't get shown to you on facebook?

I thought it was well known and well complained about that when you post something not everyone sees it. The way my timeline seems to be right now if someone posted they're safe right this moment I wouldn't see it until tomorrow night.

If you were concerned about someone's wellbeing surely you'd check their page directly?

Fair point

Facebook can't make money off that or make people feel like it's necessary to their lives. Similarly, Facebook couldn't take a cut out of people recovering from these events unless they integrated it into their platform.

This is especially problematic when you consider Facebook’s business model benefits from increased engagement with its platform. Add to that, it also recently stepped into the personal fundraising space. And today, as chance would have it, Facebook announced that Safety Check will be integrating these personal fundraisers (starting in the US).

An FAQ for Facebook’s Fundraisers notes that the company levies a fee for personal donations of 6.9% + $.30, while fees for nonprofit donations range from 5% to 5.75%.

Probably way more than 9 million. I live in a small city 60 miles from London, and facebook asked me to "mark safe" yesterday because of the fire.

It's nuts.

You might have friends on Facebook who are not locals. When a chemical plant blew up spectacularly in Tianjin, China, I was more than an hour away in Beijing. I still got a lot of worried inquiries (from those who heard about it anyway). The same when there was a terrorist attack in Berlin. I was at the other side of the city. There was no Safety Check, but I posted about it, because events like these affect people emotionally.

The fire in London was not a catastrophe of the scale of a tsunami or a major terrorist attack, but the pictures were frightening and impressive, and it is still a huge tragedy. So I can imagine many residents of London got worried messages from friends and family abroad.

Why would people worry that you, in Beijing, was at risk from an explosion in Tianjin (100km distant)?

If a bomb goes off in Baltimore, I don't call all my DC friends.

Because people have no sense of scale in foreign countries, that is my point. Especially if you are viewing a map of all China trying to find Beijing, 100km is not much :-).

On 9/11 I was a kid living in Germany, but had relatives in California. My teachers were incredibly concerned and treated my like I was wrapped in cotton, or as if I had lost somebody personally. It's a weird thing.

>"Thank god the author hasn't lived through an event where everybody you know is affected by the event."

How do you know they haven't? Just because you have and feel one way doesn't mean they haven't.

>"If he's feeling stressed out because of FB opening the "I'm okay" service in that small area for that catastrophic fire,"

I'm not sure I would consider 6 miles a 'small area.'

> How do you know they haven't? Just because you have and feel one way doesn't mean they haven't.

Point taken. That said, his entire essay reads to me as a man unaffected by hardship.

> I'm not sure I would consider 6 miles a 'small area.'

Point taken. That said, let's compare the area affected in New York City on 9/11 to the London apartment fire. WTC's disaster would have benefited from FB's safety check feature. That day/evening I manually called (a lot) of people based on their work address in my contact list. Everybody checked out okay. Some days later, I find out a associate was at a Risk Waters risk conference in the Windows of the World restaurant. He died. Because the conference attendance was (of course) handwritten and only in the building, nobody knew who was there and who wasn't. Had FB's safety check feature been around in those days, I think that particular situation would not have been so chaotic for the families.

I doubt it. I bet lots of people in either tower would have triggered the "I'm OK" feature a few minutes after the first plane hit, as would firemen who would only later get called in to help.

Should Facebook have created a 'please reconfirm' feature? If so, how often should hey have triggered it? For 9/11, there are at least four main events: two plane hits and two building collapses, but there were more: additional buildings, etc.

>"Had FB's safety check feature been around in those days, I think that particular situation would not have been so chaotic for the families."

Would it have helped the families of first the first responders like NYFD/NYPD/EMTs? Are first responders supposed to take time to "check in" on FB? Would it have been any less chaotic for their families?

And honestly I find it really disturbing to compare tragedies, especially so in the context of their value to a FB feature.

I was comparing geographic size, the 6 miles referenced by the poster above me. Both events were in a small geographic area.

I guess I feel I have the right to make the comparison. I wasn't there in NYC, but I had "some skin in the game" on 9/11 so to speak. From that experience, and from later ones, I can put myself into the shoes of somebody wondering if their loved one was mixed up in the London fire. To them, it doesn't matter that the fire affected only one apartment building in London.

rabboRubble To start off I understand your point that the Safety Check feature can be valuable. Japan's typhoon system is fantastic example you brought up where the entire population of a city needs to, after the incident, notate their safety. However, this is vastly different than the case being discussed of the London fire. In the London fire a small minority, ~500 people, results in a 6 miles notification (other comments said ~9 million people). As stated this kind of notification provides very little value. And instead provides negative value by switching peoples perceived safety ("I think my mother is safe sleeping currently") to a "required" opt-in safety check ("Well she hasn't said anything...so is she?").

This difference is my problem with the Safety Check system and, I believe, the authors. If there is an event where my safety is indeed in a majority questionable state (Typhoon takes out my town) then prompt me with a check #ThankYou. If there was an event which doesn't swing to a majority question then leave it to the individual case.

2 side notes: 1. Why do I personally take issue? Well, I was a student during the following: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2016_Ohio_State_University_att... and felt "forced" to provide my answer to the Safety Check as I know my one crazy aunt would go loony if I didn't. In no way did the event warrant this switch from perceived safety to opt-in safety (it was 13 students hurt of >50,000).

2. As other commenters have noted "With great power, comes great responsibility!". If they're going to deploy this technology make sure it provides value and effects, changes safety to opt-in, for the smallest possible subset. Additionally, as you pointed out in your original post allow individuals to add themselves to the Safety Check list if you are getting spammed with messages.

Sorry for the long post but, like the author, I was very taken aback when I first encountered this feature on Facebook. While I understand the good intentions. Personally, it fell into the area of prompting a world where we need that instant knowledge, text back, response, etc. which frankly isn't that healthy...

Interesting comment from a different angle. I guess what set me greatly opposed to the author's article was "There is zero need for a Safety Check feature." quote near the end of the essay. I disagree with him entirely, and for the reasons I originally stated.

After reading all the comments my observations kicked off, your's actually caused me to think outside of my own set of experiences. I kinda see your point. That said, I still stand by my original position that FB's service fills a purpose at the Katrina / regional earthquake & tsunami level. However perhaps they need to work on the fine tuning. Personally glad I don't work in this area inside FB! They are going to be criticized for setting the threshold too high or too low regardless.

Glad to help. I agree it shouldn't be removed entirely and FB will get crap either way. Thanks for the differing opinion, best!

None of your comments address the irresponsibility on facebook's part of sending push notifications of issues that are almost certainly guaranteed to not involve you or anyone you know.

Hypotheticals about how 9/11 would have played in the presence of a safety notification by facebook are conjecture, and seem pretty far fetched to me.

The reality is the vast majority of people are getting drawn in, dishonestly, into interaction with FB.

It happened in my city also, a underground subway was getting constructed, not even used by people yet, and a small portion collapsed. Almost everyone in the city got a safety check notification, hundreds of thousands of people, for an event that killed no one, and only affected a handful of workers. Why is it necessary to notify the city of that? It's irresponsible and dishonest.

I get what you're saying, and I don't disagree. But destruction of the World Trade Center really doesn't compare to a single structure fire, even in a large structure. They're not even in the same ballpark.

her entire essay...

Proximity at the time of the event isn't always a good indicator either way, I live a very short walk from the attack last weekend and am usually in that location around those times regularly, but that day was quite a few miles away - there was still value in me checking myself as safe even if I wasn't physically there.

Needs to be some blend of proximity at that time/frequency of visit. Facebook probably stores all of this in any case, so a bit more tweaking on their part will make it easier to deal with.

> I'm not sure I would consider 6 miles a 'small area.'

If you're like me, living in Australia... 6 miles is considerably tiny :P

In the context of the London fire, it's definitely not a small area. A similar fire in, say, Sydney wouldn't magically make a 6 mile radius "tiny".

This. It seems pretty irresponsible for Facebook to be running this out in the open with an algorithm which is clearly not doing very well. It should have human approval for each "safety check" event and use that to tune the algos until they're VERY confident that it's doing the right thing. I'm guessing that the radius is so large in order to catch people who might have gone / been in the area. I do wonder if they even have enough tracking / loc data to ensure that they'd pick up a useful % of affected individuals. It seems like they went for "cast a wide net", but in this case it has quickly-diminishing returns.

So you're extrapolating your own personal successful experience with every case and every possible setting, while also showing quite a bit of prejudice towards the author.

He does make valid points, and furthermore, as others have said, a 6 mile radius in a city like London covers hundreds of thousands of people.

I can and would argue until infinity that there is absolutely no need whatsoever for a 6 mile radius warning in the event of 1 (one) single building on fire. Weather you like it or not or agree with FB or not, this was a completely localized event of minimal or no impact (other than maybe traffic for a couple of blocks??) to such an area.

The same is clearly not true for events of other nature (natural disasters, nuclear, maybe manhunts but I already find that one questionable.., etc.)

That is to say, the service is not evil or a bad idea. The criticism is more on the execution and the unnecessary, rather opportunistic, abuse of such an event.

If the author is indeed biased because he did not live through such an event, then you are most definitely also biased because you did live through one; and you certainly seem to be not only receptive and even defensive, but apparently offended.

This was more of yet another case of attention grabbing, manipulative and opportunistic behaviour with a good samaritan cover.

Make no mistake: salesmen, media (in all formats), advertisers, politicians and companies of all sorts have been doing this for centuries.

I understand you lived through an instance where this helped, but a single building on fire does not equal a natural disaster. The scale and impact is just very different, there is no arguing that.

It's pretty simple actually: there is (should be) an appropriate level of response and a corresponding correct setting. In this particular case, it was way way off. Don't let your personal experience prevent you from recognizing that, for it's the same thing you accuse him of.

And again, even acknowledging that, you may still not agree that it was done with an opportunistic intention; and that's fine, but it shouldn't prevent you or anyone from openly discussing where the correct boundaries are.

Quoting the author himself "There is zero need for a Safety Check feature." I disagree with him entirely for the reasons stated.

My read from the author's article was that because the event was too inconveniencing for him because FB chose to response to this singular somewhat small event, with arguably too wide a net, that safety check isn't needed anywhere for anything.

Of course I used my personal experiences to refute his entire article.

The GP posted a valid point based on their personal experiences. I don't see the need for any personal attacks or casting of aspersions (I definitely don't see the need for the "salesmen, media, advertisers, politicians and companies" comment). You have a valid point that adds to the discussion, but the ad hominems make it difficult to get to the substance of it.

Agreed in most, however...

>other than maybe traffic for a couple of blocks??

Yeah you're underestimating the impact here, I live half a mile away and it was carnage yesterday. They've closed one of the major routes out of London (the Westway) and two tube lines which affected most of central London.

Thankfully things have _mostly_ returned to normal now.

> He does make valid points, and furthermore, as others have said, a 6 mile radius in a city like London covers hundreds of thousands of people.

No, it covers MILLIONS of people.

You're an outlier. These accidents never happen.

Facebook is just spreading fear to make people more docile and suggestible.

It's just like terrorist attacks and winning the lottery. Sure, these things happen but they don't happen to you.

Facebook and the media love to pick out single unusual cases to make the world seem smaller and more dangerous than it is.

The world is massive, there are more people in it and more things happening than anyone can really appreciate.

While that one tower was burning in London there were probably hundreds of other buildings of the same size burning in other places around the world at the same time. Why does FB focus so much on that one small incident at the expense of all other incidents which actually add up to more? Cold statistics are just not as interesting as emotionally-charged outlier stories.

> While that one tower was burning in London there were probably hundreds of other buildings of the same size burning in other places around the world at the same time

Hundreds sounds like a massive overestimation to me. You're saying that every single day there are hundreds of comparable building fires around the world. If we conservatively take "hundreds" to be 200, that would be 200*365 every year. That's 73000 every year!

Well according to this source: http://www.nfpa.org/news-and-research/fire-statistics-and-re..., there were 358K+ home fires in the US alone between 2010 and 2014 and I'm guessing that US has pretty good fire safety standards compared to the rest of the world (and this doesn't even include buildings which are not homes). 73K per year doesn't seem so crazy anymore.

I doubt that US has that much good fire safety standards when compared to - say - Europe.

There is generically a far wider use in the US of combustible materials in buildings (compared to Europe) and this is probably only mildly balanced by the low density of housing (with the obvius exception of the relatively few big cities).

If we use these data:


They are better than before: https://www.usfa.fema.gov/downloads/pdf/statistics/v12i8.pdf but not enough.

Between 3000 and 4000 deaths per year (out of a population of around 330 millons) is 0,001 % or 1 every 100,000,which is still very, very high.

Except that the comment I was replying to was taking specifically about buildings of the same size as the London one - and clearly taking about fires of a comparable magnitude to the London one (otherwise their comparison would have been meaningless). Home fires are irrelevant to that.

I've benefited from those services in Japan, including during 3/11 disaster. They are deployed judiciously and at an appropriate scope. One never gets the sense that commercial motivation has anything to do with the alerts. Same can't be said of Facebook's feature as far as I can tell.

I'm not certain, but maybe the disaster boards are mandated by Japan's teleco law? IDK...

I do recollect that the FB safety check was launched, in large part, because of the 3/11 disaster. Maybe for commercial reasons, but I do recall companies doing whatever they could to help the people of Japan at the time.


I have not lived through a major catastrophe but I agree with you that in such a case, this feature can be very important.

However, the problem is its application to a much wider spectrum of incidents. So the chance of lives saved is being drastically reduced, while the collateral damage is massive.

No, what the author is trying to say is that it's up to the individual to assuage fears or confirm problems.

We all have those extremely nervous and neurotic friends who jump to conclusions about things that would have no affect on you whatsoever.

I've had people just today ask me if I was ok based on the fact that the UPS shootings occurred in San Francisco and I'm currently in the Bay Area.

Now with Facebook able to unilaterally decide that I might have been affected, so they send out a systemwide alert, that confirms or creates everybody's worst fears. If I am affected, I'll reach out when I'm able to. If I'm not affected, why waste cycles calming people down that I didn't alert?

In the last couple of weeks, I have been notified on Facebook by friends about:

- An abduction that involved the dad taking the kids against the mother's will for a few days -- three states away

- A triple murder-suicide -- 300 miles away

- A woman arrested for being cruel to her animals, complete with pictures -- in a city 150 miles away

And this is with my blocks as high as I can make them.

I am constantly being bombarded by news that affects a very small segment of the population in communities far distant from the one I live in.

This does not provide any sort of public service to me. Emotional-laden content such as this and the "I'm safe" buttons exist for Facebook's purposes far, far more than they do for the user's purposes.

This is the way of the new PC crowd: do something that benefits you but can be spun as a kindness to the community. Then shout down anybody who points out that you're only acting in your self interest.

I do not doubt that this has a benefit for that small number of people actually trapped in a large-scale natural disaster (Although I would wonder what, exactly, in a world of billions of people constitutes "large scale"?) But if you waste five minutes of ten million people's lives with a notification like this? That's 5 minutes X 10 million = more than 2,200 man-years. It's the equivalent of 30 people's lives simply to make a few people feel better. In addition, because of the numbers involved, overall it actually creates much more stress than it reduces. There is a not-insignificant healthcare cost associated with things like this.

The old-time capitalist pigs were easy to understand: they made stuff in order to make money. The new guys on the block are full of a lot more bullshit than the older guys -- and people who aren't paying attention are easily suckered into the schpiel and the concomitant pathos.

Why do you use Facebook?

Why not post something to your timeline or update your status? Presumably that would have worked just as well.

(Honest question; I don't use FB, and this feature seems about as useful as being woken up by a 2AM Amber Alert on my cell phone here in the US)

Because "the algorithm" might decide your family don't get to see that update. Facebook is no point chronological, nor does it show everything your friends post. They pick and choose.

If people don't care about you enough to check your timeline if they think you are endangered, is there a point to letting them know you're safe?

As OP, I lived through a major natural disaster, and I posted that I was safe on my timeline, and most of my friends that were connected with the disaster did.

> a major natural disaster that left me an evacuee for months

Honestly I'd have thought this situation would call for a lot more than an "I'm ok" checkbox. Something like the recent London terror attacks (disaster in a public place, not just one specific building) seems a decent fit for I'm ok but a disaster where you lose your home seems like the opposite of ok.

Surely putting facebook in charge of public safety announcements, instead of say, emergency services, is a terrible idea.

Confirmation bias.

TIL asking someone you know who has been through a disaster if they are okay is a "bullshit inquiry."

Agreed. "Bullshit inquiries" was probably not the best way to describe people caring enough to ask. At the time I found myself repeating the same thing over and over and over again, followed by telling people the bright spot in the whole situation "I have plenty of emergency food and water." Wash rinse repeat. "I have plenty of emergency food and water." Wash rinse repeat. "I have plenty of emergency food and water." Wash rinse repeat.

Followed by an adrenaline crash. Followed by all the little muscles around my knees and spine giving up. For the next months, sleeping on other people's guest beds, these little muscle pulls ached. I was mentally drained and physically in low-moderate pain for about a year afterward.

My strong recommendation for everybody's emergency supply kit: pack a jumbo bottle of ibuprofen. Being homeless physically hurts.

Once upon a time, I had to listen to a friend complain about television tornado coverage preempting his favorite TV show.

At the same time he was attempting to watch his show, I was at work dealing with a flooded basement lab and wondering if my home, which was close to the path of the storm, was still standing.

Some people are very self-centered.

Some people are numbed by severe weather coverage. In the Midwest, in my experience, people just aren't phased by tornadoes because they'd be hiding in their basement for 10 months out of the year.

Ok, I had to make a throwaway for this because apparently its a heated debate.

Why does everything Facebook do have to be so heavily criticized?

Safety Check is a wonderful feature. If I remember correctly, it started off as an internal hackathon project that got turned into a full feature. They get shit if they turn it on (here), and if they don't turn it on (past tragedies where they failed to turn it on).

Why does everything Facebook do turn into a riot? After years in the industry, 95% of things that are "bad" that come out of big companies end up being well meaning and just look malicious without context. Hanlon's razor is real.

Yeah, Facebook has to fund all this somehow. Yeah, they are going to make their ad space extremely valuable with all the information they have. They don't sell your raw data. They sell access to you like the rest of the industry.

Those creepy ads that you saw based on some conversation you had? Turns out that they're NOT listening to your mic or whatever. It's either confirmation bias or something you're not thinking about.

Those friends that they suggest with a new account? Turns out your friends posted pictures of you on Facebook, and Facebook knows how to do facial recognition.

It feels like everything Facebook is overblown on HN. What am I missing?

Edit: I should have said this originally, but I'm a former Facebook employee, now at another big tech company. I try not to be too controversial in writing, which is why I made a throwaway.

Imagine if one-fifth of the entire global population read the same newspaper every morning. Imagine if that same newspaper also operated the largest espionage network in the history of humanity.

Facebook doesn't receive nearly enough scrutiny and criticism. Western governments have been completely blindsided by the immense power that lies in the hands of Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook have a near-monopoly on social media in many countries. They have an incomprehensibly vast archive of personal data, alongside a EULA that allows them to do nearly anything with that data. Their algorithms profoundly influence how two billion people perceive the world, with practically no transparency or oversight.

Facebook are a hair's breadth away from any number of dystopian scenarios. We should be extremely nervous about the unchecked power that Facebook wields. We should pounce on any dubious decision that Facebook makes, but we should also be asking some serious and fundamental questions about the position of Facebook in our society.

Look at Zuckerberg's recent manifesto. He fully understands how powerful he is, and he has a clear vision of how he intends to use that power to shape the world. It's time that we (and our elected representatives) woke up.


Very well said. Hopefully more people will adopt this kind of skepticism and realism about the entities that affect our daily lives.

I feel strongly to respond.

Chicken little. That's what came to mind when I read your reply.

If FB OR ANY other entiry gets you so upset then stop using it.

We all make choices. I always give this example.

My grandmother could have voted for every losing president during her lifetime but because of other more important choices like who to marry, whether to work hard or not, what people she associates with, when to have sex and if and when to create life her life became a function of those choices.

Why in anyone's name would a person by choice use or contemplate FB or any other entity if it makes you upset.

I just don't get it.

> If FB OR ANY other entiry gets you so upset then stop using it.

I posted this in another reply, but that's effectively impossible. Facebook collects data on you from friends and family that use it. How do you suggest I stop that? What about Facebooks's tracking code all over the internet? Know a foolproof way to block that too?

If you stop using Facebook, why would you care if they collect data on you from friends? How is what they do with it affecting you? You're not using their product! You know how often I wake up worried about what some company I don't do business with knows about me? Never.

> If you stop using Facebook, why would you care if they collect data on you from friends?

I think it comes from growing up in the USSR, where the threat of the government showing up at your door because of something you said was very real. What no one in the US seems to appreciate is that even a stable country is only one or two major crises from being in the same situation. This is surprising because McCarthyism[1] happened a mere 70 years ago - a blink of an eye by historical standards.

Do you really think that under a Neo-McCarthy government any information Facebook has about you would be kept private? That Facebook's precious social graph or Google's archive of your search history wouldn't be used against you? I think that's naive.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McCarthyism

Foolproof no, but you should get the Ghostery browser extension. You can tell it to block all social media and advertising tracking on websites you visit. From what I can tell it's effective (websites that require a Facebook login, for example, are broken unless I tell Ghostery to "trust" that site).

> Imagine if one-fifth of the entire global population read the same newspaper every morning. Imagine if that same newspaper also operated the largest espionage network in the history of humanity.

That's not a valid comparison since Facebook doesn't publish their own content. It can promote unfiltered news (that often turn out not to be true) but it's not as if the same news story would be read by 1bn people each day.

Facebook decide what you do or don't see, based on completely opaque algorithms and human filtering. They're not the journalists, they're the editor.

The comparison is friendly for Facebook, IMO. If Facebook pushes an agenda, the most obvious way to do so is through manipulating the order and appearance of items in the news feed. Facebook pushing an agenda will look like particular kinds of political content becoming more important to your friends.

You are missing the entire point of the analogy.

I agree with you up until the mic comment. I ran a few tests with friends. We talked about very obscure topics repeatedly (and nothing else) that we would otherwise would have never messaged, and after scrolling 2 mins, targeted ads appeared for those topics. Happened for multiple topics.

I just don't buy this theory until I see some evidence. It wouldn't be hard for a talented individual to reverse engineer the Facebook client app to find out if it's either a) continuously recording and uploading raw audio to their servers, or b) continuously recording and locally processing audio before sending information about the content to their servers. Until I see an analysis of their code that indicates either of those things is happening, I have to believe that this is a conspiracy theory perpetuated by people posting these suspicious anecdotes all over the internet.

I had it happen to me too. Why would I lie about something like this? This is my real account, I'm a real guy.

My wife and I were talking about celebrating my kids birthday party at Arcade Foobar. A day later she started seeing ads on Facebook about Arcade Foobar.

It's grotesque and one of the many reasons why my wife and I no longer have facebook accounts.

Probably because people in your area often celebrate birthdays there. You would've seen it without the conversation as well. And it was one of probably 100 ads you and your wife saw over the days, you didn't notice the ones that were targeted badly.

You don't have to be lying about it, but consider that we often incorrectly detect patterns where none exist.

Two words, "lookalike modelling", or as FB calls it Lookalike Audiences:


Arcade Foobar want to draw in new customers, and so generate a lookalike audience based on data they have from existing customers. The modelling algo then compares data points for people who 'look like' their customers, and those people can then be targeted with a high probability that they will also be interested in the same thing.

This is a perfectly plausible explanation that doesn't require FB to be listening to you through your phone mic.

Complete nonsense. That you actually believe this instead of the much more plausible explanations are beyond me.

Why is it not plausible?

Because if Facebook was actually listening to your mic we would know it. They wouldn't be able to hide and it would be a massive scandal. It's simply too conspiratorial to take seriously when there is no evidence other than anecdotal stories like this.

You don't see any difference between Alexa (which wouldn't work without listening to everything) and Facebook secretly listening without your consent to use it for ad targeting? None of your links provide any evidence this would be the case, or even mention Facebook.

The tools are there for you to try it:



You could probably also do it with the emulator. You may need to do something like https://www.bettercap.org/blog/sslstripping-and-hsts-bypass/ or it could be even harder: http://docs.mitmproxy.org/en/stable/certinstall.html#certifi...

There are of course ways around this: https://serializethoughts.com/2016/08/18/bypassing-ssl-pinni...

If you need some more hints: https://github.com/ac-pm/SSLUnpinning_Xposed



If you do this, please write it up. I'm sure that many people would be interested in this research if it hasn't already been done.

EDIT: In the spirit of POC||GTFO, I got curious and did it myself. I don't see any evidence of any mic uploads. The worst thing I see is it posting your current location. Here's a screenshot of the typical stuff I was seeing (this particular one is for the messenger portion of the app, and it looks like it's pulling in assets for stickers. I have the Pusheen pack because it's hella adorbs): https://i.imgur.com/dVekldx.png

It's POSTing to graph.facebook.com as you scroll to get more data. It's just JSON and pretty easy to figure out what's going on. I just followed http://docs.telerik.com/fiddler/Configure-Fiddler/Tasks/Conf... . I guess they're not pinning their certs, at least on my Nexus 7 and the version of the FB app that I used (v26. on Android 5.1.1 on the 2012 Nexus 7, since that's what I had laying around to mess with easily).

This literally took about 5 minutes to set up and get working. I encourage those curious to try it and see for themselves. I just read http://www.portero.com/blog/a-brief-history-of-gucci-infogra... aloud (I never shop for Gucci handbags, so seeing ads for them would be the tell) to test. I'm not some forensics expert but again, looks like nothing I wouldn't expect, definitely not uploading audio streams to Facebook as I'm speaking or +/- 5 minutes. Again though, check it out for yourself.

EDIT 2: I searched for a few unique strings from some of the decoded JSON my N7 was sending to FB and found https://github.com/macliu010/android_facebook_decomplied , which should be interesting for those following along at home.

While I applaud any attempt to gather real and first-person observations...

> I don't see any evidence of any mic uploads.

... I am somewhat concerned at what seems to be a common assumption that Facebook (or any other remote server) is sending the same software to everybody. I find that unlikely when "AB testing" and similar practices are are commonly used. Facebook is very strongly involved with "targeted" services which suggests they are more likely than most to send different versions to different audiences. Obviously that isn't proof, but it's a good reason to extrapolating from a single example.

Version numbers and hashes of the installer or binaries from all parties would help a lot.

> I encourage those curious to try it and see for themselves

That's always good advice.

If we're talking about mobile apps, it seems more likely that they would send the same software to everyone and just turn on these features being tested by sending some activation signal from a central coordinating service, or perhaps including it in some web content that the app might use. That seems much easier than actually distributing different apps.

> more likely

My point is that guessing without actual data isn't evidence. It's easy to speculate and guess at what we think is going on, but it's a bad idea to assume any particular speculation is right in the best situations. It's foolish when the subject of the investigation's core business model is based on sending different things to specifically targeted groups.

> just turn on these features

Perhaps. There are many ways a feature like this could be implemented. See the various obfuscated code contests for extreme examples of how functionality can be hidden in a program. This just means network logs from different clients are also needed, in addition to hashes of binaries.

How would you know if it is tunneling out the data, concealed as any other kind of traffic, and at some future point after recording?

I am pretty sure it would be undetectable if done right, given no access to the source code of the multiple Facebook components running on your device (some pre-installed by the manufacturer and unremoveable).

This would make an interesting blog post.

Thanks. I don't keep a blog anymore or I'd do it. They have also recently denied doing this: http://www.businessinsider.com/is-facebooks-app-spying-on-me... so if anyone can show evidence otherwise, it would likely be A Big Deal.

EDIT: Sounds like they might pin certs on newer versions of the iOS app. https://github.com/Naituw/HackingFacebook might be useful to get around that. I haven't tried it.

Should be reasonably easy to check with your favorite network monitoring tool.

It embarrasses me to see such conspiratorial nonsense on this website.

There are many reasons why such things happen: coincidence, someone google the topic from the same router IP address, ad tracking on Googled websites, etc etc

The idea that one of the worlds largest companies would risk their entire business by secretly recording their users for ad revenue is absurd on almost every level.

Yet some people on HackerNew, a forum that self-selects to a highly educated/intelligent part of the community actually believes it.

It's mind-boggling.

> The idea that one of the worlds largest companies would risk their entire business by secretly recording their users for ad revenue is absurd on almost every level.

Right[1]. Nobody makes risky[2], ethically challenged[3] decisions[4] in business[5]. Ever[6]. Doesn't happen[7].

[1] https://www.recode.net/2017/5/11/15628924/alphabet-waymo-law...

[2] https://www.yahoo.com/news/hampton-creek-serves-another-vega...

[3] http://fortune.com/2016/07/08/rise-fall-elizabeth-holmes-the...

[4] https://www.inc.com/business-insider/inside-lending-club-sca...

[5] http://fortune.com/2016/08/14/fraud-allegations-hud-skully/

[6] https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/01/technology/a-silicon-vall...

[7] http://www.businessinsider.com/fbi-us-attorney-could-look-at...

> The idea that one of the worlds largest companies would risk their entire business by secretly recording their users for ad revenue is absurd on almost every level.

I'm with you on the skepticism, but they are one of the largest companies in the world because of ad revenue. It's not putting their business at risk, it is their business.

It embarrasses me to see such horrible logic and head-in-the-sand thinking on this website.

Whether they record ambient audio or not, how is it implausible or out of character with everything else they do? Facebook and many other companies collect countless dimensions of data on users to profile them for marketing. Audio is just one more. It's not even really that disturbing or far fetched. Why would they ignore such a lucrative data source when they've already tapped so many others?

It's a direct business plan with Amazon's echo for christ sake. What is so hard to comprehend about this?

Not wearing my tin foil hat, just reporting what I found when I tried to test it myself. Only our computers on the router, had never googled the topics.

See my updated post just above. I just tried it with my Nexus 7 and saw nothing around mic uploads. Install Fiddler and MITM your Facebook app and repeat your experiment. I'm very curious to see if you find something different from what I found.

My wife and I did the same test with the same results. It's the reason I took the app off my phone and just use the mobile web.

For clarification on what we did for our test, I live in the south east. We don't watch professional baseball at all...so we started talking about going to a Cincinnati Reds game.

And then we saw ads for the Reds and MLB.

I'm not trying to go full tin foil hat here, but it was a pretty strong coincidence for that to happen.

Did you also see ads for things you didn't talk about? How did you select those very obscure topics?

are you serious? Which app/phone?

We both had our phones (one iPhone, one android) and macbooks on with facebook (web/app) open.

With facebook web it's pretty easy to say as you have to give permission via your browser. Otherwise, for Chrome, you'd have to assume that Google works with Facebook to help them make more money. Rather unlikely.

How did you ensure that no other apps were listening in the background?

I don't understand--how would other apps trigger related facebook ads?

Send some data to an ad network or something that feeds it, Facebook ads somehow pick that up. Not beyond the realm of feasibility. Try using a just-factory-reset phone with JUST the Facebook app installed. There is science to be done here.

I don't have a strong opinion about your general question, but this is easily explainable:

> Safety Check is a wonderful feature. If I remember correctly, it started off as an internal hackathon project that got turned into a full feature. They get shit if they turn it on (here), and if they don't turn it on (past tragedies where they failed to turn it on).

It's just not the same people doing the complaining. That some people complained about the feature not being on doesn't mean there are no negatives to turning it on, and now people affected by those negatives are complaining.

Or to draw a more absurdist comparison, let's say Facebook had a switch. If they pull it, I get punched in the face. If they don't pull it, you get punched in the face. Now, when they pull it, I'm understandably upset and demand they stop pulling it. When they listen to my complaint and stop pulling it, you are suddenly upset and tell them to keep pulling it. Seems like Facebook just can't catch a break? Or are they simply trying to serve customers with competing needs, something every business has to deal with?

I don't think this situation is special to Facebook, so I think a likely explanation for your initial question(Why does everything Facebook do have to be so heavily criticized?) would be that this is something common to large businesses trying to serve competing interests, and you notice Facebook more because Facebook is very large and has lots of users.

They don't just have lots of users, they have more users than any country in the history of the world (that's 1.9 billion monthly users). Therefore there are potentially massive, world-changing consequences to everything they do, and even those who don't use it can't opt out of the effects.

Do you really feel like a non-democratic oligarchy (or more inflammatory language, a dictator) should have that much power?

edit: posted too much to make a proper reply, but China is only at 1.3 billion and is obviously a lot more localized

But Facebook isn't a country. It's a free (as in beer) on-line service. It's completely opt-in, and its only claim to you is the strength of its network effect - which, as history shows, is something very fragile both on the local and global scale.

What you're afraid of is evil CEOs doing mind control, not despotism.

I think Mark is the mostly benevolent dictator of 1.9 billion people who are using his service for various reasons.

If you were to show people exactly what Facebook knows about you and can figure out about you as well as the practices they engage in, many people would not use the service, but they don't know these things because Facebook keeps people ignorant. It's not in Facebook's best interests to have people know.

I can't blame Facebook for that, but when they are incompetent it impacts everyone else. I didn't opt in to racists getting jazzed up and going on killing sprees that they put on Facebook Live because of feeds that are mostly opaque and first and foremost designed to make money, and I didn't opt in to social media creating a generation of narcissists, but we all get to experience that.

I don't even believe Mark's evil, but when you have that much power, you have a ton of responsibility to use that properly and Facebook's response has mostly been to say sorry when they fuck up. There's nothing you can do to curtail that power because there are few entities that can actually sanction them.

That's scary and it's dangerous for society. It's the biggest social experiment ever conducted and there are no rules other than the ones that Zuckerberg makes.

If human existence is a long series of lucky rolls of the dice, is it really a good idea to roll the dice on a single individual who got lucky at 21, who now benevolently or not decides the algorithms that determine what almost 2 billion people see? That's nuts and it is something of our own making. Nobody did or would opt into that because people ultimately like to have agency over their own lives.

> It's completely opt-in

No, it absolutely is not. Facebook creates shadow profiles[1] even if you never use the service based on what your friends and family upload about you. Not to mention that not having a facebook profile is often treated as suspicious[2] by potential employers, landlords, significant others, and now US customs[3].

[1] http://www.zdnet.com/article/anger-mounts-after-facebooks-sh...

[2] https://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2012/08/06/beware-t...

[3] https://www.cnet.com/news/border-patrol-agents-checking-face...

China has more people than Facebook has users.

China has just shy of 1.4 billion people. That is not more people than Facebook has users according to this statistic》 https://www.statista.com/statistics/272014/global-social-net...

A lot of them are business accounts, bots and fake or throwaway. I have 3. How can anyone be sure that each account is a person. It says a lot about general IQ on HN that I got 4 downvotes for suggesting that Facebook has less users (real ones) than China has people (real ones, too!)

Have your upvote. Maybe if you had said this the first time you wouldn't have gotten downvoted.

It's possible, even likely that FB has 600 million fake accounts, but you didn't even bother explaining yourself.

So you're telling me that if I state a fact but don't back it up then I get down-voted? On so many occasions I've stated facts without explanation that got up-voted. So what I'm trying to say is: the idiocy of crowds.

Seems to be a pretty tame topic to be using a throwaway. Perhaps you have a vested interest in the debate.

The combination of a wildly successful company, not caring about privacy, and a (formerly) bombastic founder. It's the perfect storm for HN shitposting.

They have an enormous target on their back and could never do anything right. They got ripped for not enabling safety check recently too. https://techcrunch.com/2015/11/15/facebook-says-it-will-enab...

"The combination of a wildly successful company, not caring about privacy, and a (formerly) bombastic founder. It's the perfect storm for HN shitposting"

Them implementing a feature so poorly that it tells people 6 miles away to confirm they're safe from a building fire is a "perfect storm for HN shitposting" because of the success of the company, privacy issues, and the founder? And not because the feature is a failing in ways causing false alarms and unnecessary stress?

No, because people already hate Facebook so much that when they make a small mistake it gets blown up and turned into a giant news story and hits the front page of HN, filling it up with "delete Facebook!!!" posts.

Frankly, thank the mainstream media.

I bet if Techcrunch didn't write about it, we wouldn't even have this story. If I posted it on my personal blog, I'd be rightly laughed out of the room.

>"Ok, I had to make a throwaway for this because apparently its a heated debate."

I am curious why do you feel the need to make a throwaway account because something is a "heated debate."?

Can't risk losing internet points, can we? Although it's also somewhat an indictment of the chilling effect of online lynch mobs on open discussion.

It is also an indictment of Facebook, where such a thing is not even (supposed to be possible).

I had an account for ten years, my real name from day 1, my real pictures from day one, lots of RL friends plus friends I basically casually made on Facebook. I had a great time posting about whatever and hating on Facebook, until one day it greets me with "we have to confirm your identity", because some people who surely did not show their ID clicked "fake profile" enough to basically shut me up. It's not even paranoia that makes me not upload a photo of my ID (with everything but name blacked out), it's the principle. I do have email or phone numbers of my close friends, I don't need FB, but for pretending to be inclusive it's pretty fucking sinister.

It's like I wouldn't hate a piece of chewing gum per se. But when it's advertised as a full meal it becomes something entirely differently.

For those who can't stand others complaining about FB, strap yourself in, I can't stand you still using it, and unless FB changes drastically, that will remain so. I'm Momo, you're the people who got abducted into day cares. And hey, I even went inside with you just so we could keep playing. What a waste of time that was.

I'm not sure what Facebook is meant to do here. They added the 'fake profile' thing to help combat scammers / impersonators, and as a result some people use it as a way to annoy legit users with whom they disagree (just like with any moderation system that has a 'flag user' button). Or are you saying that you think Facebook themselves started harassing your account as some kind of punishment?

Agreed. If it's because OP's a facebook employee, that should be disclosed w/ the throwaway account.

I'll be honest and say that I'm a former Facebook employee. Probably should have disclosed that originally, but I think it gives even more credit to my Hanlon's razor statement.

It's just safer/easier to use a throwaway. I have these opinions in real life, but I try not to be too controversial in writing.

I had written a response to the parent comment on this considering an alternate possibility, but then saw this and deleted it. If you could update your original post, it would help curb some of the meta-discussion on your comment.

As meta comment though, I don't think anything you said is necessarily controversial, it's just debatable. Obviously you need to gauge the potential fallout on your own life, but the comments themselves are fairly innocuous.

Updated my original post to include my former employment.

It's just a habit of mine to make a throwaway for anything potentially controversial. It really wouldn't be too big if a deal if my identity was connected to any of my throwaways. It just makes me feel safer.

Not sure I agree on the Hanlon's razor point. Your view of the intentionality of insiders is an insider's view. ;)

But in general, I don't doubt that these things are well intended and not malicious. In my case, my complaint isn't that Facebook is malicious or intentional. It's more of a negligence or gross negligence point.

[Edited for clarity]

Facebook's hooks are my relationships. Leveraging relationships in order to drive engagement isn't problematic in itself; that's just the business Facebook is in, and I accept that by using the site. But there are ways and means. Facebook's all too often feel so tone-deaf it's insulting, given the special nature of the content I've entrusted to them. Safety check's radical over-inclusiveness is an example. And the rates they charge even the nonprofit fundraisers - that strikes me as just shameless.

As you are a former fb employee and current big tech employee I highly suggest you look a bit deeper at some of the arguments against facebook's monopoly on personal surveillance and critically ask yourself whether you're really ok with where this is leading.

It's probably because Facebook does a lot of shitty things, and that when the start doing more shitty things, people pay attention because it has the largest market penetration of any company in history, and because doing shady, sloppy, crappy stuff to over a billion people is kind of a big deal to, I don't know, over a billion people or so. Give or take.

Facebook's history and business model are selling data to advertisers to make money. Locking your data in. Depriving you of ownership of your content.

When the sole source of income for a company depends on duping people into providing free data and content that they can monetize through unbelievably shitty ads, you can bet your ass that there will be some false evil positives. Because why wouldn't they?

Is there anything Facebook wouldn't do to make a buck? I think the answer is no. They have no morals, no ethics, and no values that I can discern. When someone says Facebook is listening to your computer microphone, I think, "Well duh. Of course they would. Anything for another advertising buck." And when I find out they weren't, I think, "Well, it's a good idea for them. They are probably working on it."

Can you name one single thing that Facebook has refused to do in the search for ad revenue? I've never worked there, so I can't possibly know the answer to that question. But based on what I've seen Facebook actually do (false reports not included), I'm pretty sure that no one ever says no to anything if there's a chance at making more money.

Add to that the fact that the company is explicitly against the norms and standards of an open web, and you have a good portion of your answer.

We hate Facebook because it takes advantage of people who don't know any better and subverts the open nature of the internet. And because there is seemingly nothing it will not do, no matter how unethical or awful, to further its own ends above.

My general feeling from the comments I've seen over the years is that HN is not keen on market leading companies in general. I suspect it could be due to a selective audience since the site is tailored to entrepreneurs and startups.

It's because we're skeptical of corporations that hold the kind of power Facebook does -- power derived from their data on literally billions of people -- just as we would be if it was a government doing the same. And companies like Facebook get extra (deserved) scrutiny, because they aren't as accountable to the people using their products, since those people aren't their customers.

It's not about "startups vs. market leading companies." It's this audience knowing the immense power and control companies like Facebook can (and do) exert over us all.

It's so new and so massive that decisions made there affect the world in unpredictable ways.

It's compelling to talk about the effects, clearly people care about it, so it will be written about.

> Why does everything Facebook do have to be so heavily criticized?

Personally I find it offensive that an ad network thinks it has anything to say to me about the safety of my loved ones or that it has pretensions to providing services for the "public good".

If you're going to sell ads, sell ads. Don't pretend that you're not in the psychological manipulation business and you're somehow saving the world.

> After years in the industry, 95% of things that are "bad" that come out of big companies end up being well meaning and just look malicious without context. Hanlon's razor is real.

Intentions don't matter. The negative effects of pervasive corporate surveillance and finely targeted advertising are real and potentially catastrophic. Being "well meaning" just means that the engineers either didn't fully consider the consequences of their actions or acted with enough hubris to think they knew the consequences even though there were many unknowns.

The cost reductions that removed hardware interlocks for the Therac-25[1] were well-meaning. Still killed people.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Therac-25

Are you kidding me? This is not a "wonderful feature" this is a blatant attempt to capitalize on disasters and turn it into user engagement which becomes ad revenue for Facebook. Give me a break.

Is there anything Facebook could do at this point that wouldn't make you think this?

Just because someone's making money off of something doesn't mean it's inherently bad.

Your attitude is absurd, man. Making money is not inherently bad, we all have to make money to earn a living. Duh.

But jumping on a disaster to make money is always bad. There's a reason being a war profiteer was a prosecutable offense (though that seems to have gone out the window in recent decades.)

I'm not sure what your question is; do you mean is there anything Facebook could do when there's a disaster that wouldn't seem like they're trying to cash grab in a very inappropriate way? I don't know. My response would be Facebook is not important when there's a disaster, there's plenty of other forms of communication. If you can use Facebook then you have internet and phone/texting access, so you don't need Facebook. Your loved ones can get a hold of you by more direct methods.

Which is not to say it's impossible Facebook could come up with a useful feature that would be helpful to people during a disaster; but "Safety Check" is not that.

Anything altruistic is going to make them money indirectly through PR. That doesn't mean they shouldn't try to be altruistic.

> Which is not to say it's impossible Facebook could come up with a useful feature that would be helpful to people during a disaster; but "Safety Check" is not that.

The top post on this thread is literally someone saying that this feature is the only reason they have kept their account.

Can it be improved? Absolutely. But to say it's not useful in its current form is absurd.

Ok, I had to make a throwaway for this because apparently its a heated debate.

You may like https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14456200 which hides your comment scores and scrambles your karma counters.

I find that without the distraction of downvotes, it's much easier to have substantive conversations even on heated topics.

>"It feels like everything Facebook is overblown on HN"

And yet you had to create a throwaway account before you could comment.

If I understood GP correctly, he created it due to the heat of the debate, not to make it more heated.

I wasn't suggesting that they created a throw away account to make it more heated.

It's the one thing in my newsfeed that I can't remove. And I don't want it there. I can (and do) hide other people's posts, I can (and do) even hide ads, but I can't hide this nonsense except by being complicit in it. If it had a "go away" button I wouldn't mind.

Zuckerberg said plainly that people who trust him are "dumb fucks", so I have what I think is the natural response and don't trust him. It's not complicated.

He was 19 at the time he wrote that. He is 33 now. I'm not sure it's natural or fair to judge someone predominantly on an off-the-cuff comment they made almost half their lives ago. I certainly said things at 19 that I wouldn't want attached to my professional identity and that aren't representative of my beliefs and mindset now. While I don't know you, the same is likely true of you, or will be someday.

How long in the past does something like that need to be before you can start taking other evidence into account?

> He was 19 at the time he wrote that. He is 33 now. I'm not sure it's natural or fair to judge someone predominantly on an off-the-cuff comment they made almost half their lives ago.

I'm sure that becoming a billionaire and one of the most powerful men in the world has made him infinitely more humble. But I think it's more likely that he's just gotten better at messaging and spin - especially since he now has people to help him do those things.

> How long in the past does something like that need to be before you can start taking other evidence into account?

What evidence (actions not words) is there that Zuckerberg is any more concerned about people's privacy than when he was 19? Take a look at the WhatsApp fiasco[1] - all I see is evidence that we continue to be "dumb fucks" by trusting Facebook.

[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2016/08/26/whatsapp-me...

I assume you also expect people who commit crimes to rot in jail forever, and do not support rehabilitation instead.

Because the dumb fucks comment was in 2004.

Edit: (In case you nitpick my analogy) I guess you would not hire a person that was jailed in the past, because you cannot trust them.

I've been to jail, and I'm a felon.

People still hire me and trust me because I fucking owned up to my mistake, paid my duty to society, made amends, and have never repeated that mistake.

To my knowledge, Zuckerberg has never so much as apologized for being a stalker or an assclown, let alone done anything to make up for it.

It's one thing to give some support to someone who admits they did something bad. It's entirely different to give support to someone who has never done so.

Most people are not all that inclined to give you a shot after you've done time for a felony and paid huge fines, and done everything in your power to make things better for the people you hurt.

It's hard to get a job. Every application is a ton of effort even more than normal because I have to disclose things, explain the situation, my guilt, my response, and what I've done since to make sure it doesn't happen again.

But I've been, thankfully, able to find people who are willing to trust me enough to keep me employed.

People are even less inclined to cut you some slack when you never even tried to apologize, make amends, and keep acting the same way. If I tried to treat my felony the way Zuckerberg treats his fuckups, no one would ever hire me for anything at all. And rightly so.

There's a lot to be said for admitting that you screwed up and working hard to make things better. Zuck has done neither. And I don't care if it was when he was 19. The prosecutors didn't care how old I was at the time.

Being a fuckhead isn't a criminal offense, but that doesn't mean that there should be a statute of limitations on it. Once a fuckhead, always a fuckhead until proven different. And when your platform is still a privacy fuckhead thing, I'm even less inclined to forgive you and pretend that everything is okay.

1. Did Zuckerberg ever publically come clean about that phase and his motivations during it?

2. Has anything really changed?

Otherwise, what is this rehabilitation you speak of? Two parties are required, someone who forgives, someone who seeks forgiveness. To turn not seeking forgiveness into being unforgiving is just projection, and to give forgiveness where it is not sought would make a mockery of the whole effort, and of those who actually do reflect and repent. People who are the bottleneck don't get to hold the rest hostage. If he is too fucked up, then he's too fucked up, then that's sad but true and I'm not his brother or son or father to pour resources into him when there are far more worthy recipients. At the very least, he queued himself in the back as far as I'm concerned, correctly so.

Zuckerberg could live out the rest of his live just from his current wealth, and you're still white knighting using some poor Schmuck who made a misstep that could ruin his life unfairly as an example? Just step back and ponder that.

What about potential social networks made by people who are more grounded? Who don't exploit their fellow men? Those don't get a chance because we can't damn Zuckerberg for having been back then who he still is today, or what? Don't just think "what if this billionaire was my starving little sister", also think of the opportunity costs.

> Otherwise, what is this rehabilitation you speak of? Two parties are required, someone who forgives, someone who seeks forgiveness.

There's little forgiveness to be sought here. He said something stupid once, as a teenager. Here we are, 13 years later. If someone thinks he is the same person, with the same beliefs, so that one off-the-cuff comment is of any value in evaluating his thinking and behaviour, then frankly, this someone is dumb.

As for the rest of your comment, it all sounds like "let's hate him because he's rich". Your parent talks about basic principles that apply to everyone regardless of their status.

It's not about him saying it, it's about what it betrays, and about the fact that millions of people do have their personal information and intimate conversations on FB. If it was just about his personality, his fake smile would be enough. I don't need to count the flaws of someone who exhibits not a single virtue.

> it all sounds like "let's hate him because he's rich".

Oh, so it sounds like that. To you. That says more about you than about what I wrote.

I see no evidence whatsoever that facebook has earned my trust.

That's not what my OP said though. He said "I can't trust because dumb fucks", not "I can't trust because they haven't earned it". I don't like Facebook either, but I dislike this hypocrisy more.


Posting like this will get your account banned. Please stop.

Facebook is mainly hated here by Google employees or Google advocates because is some how more successul than them.

I've been at both companies. I highly doubt HN is filled with Google employees bashing Facebook.

Then, who are those people?

In my case, someone who thinks that it dumbs-down the population, leaving them in an echo chamber of made-up bullshit, lifestyle signalling and narcissism.

My position does ignore the positive aspects of Facebook like finding old acquaintances, coordinating social events etc, but then even cannibalism has its bright sides.

Don't live the life of others, is not your problem.

> Don't live the life of others

> is not your problem

You're wrong on both counts. Having an opinion regarding a social media platform, particularly one that can affect the fabric of society, is totally reasonable on a discussion forum hosted on Y Combinator.

It's no more living the life of others than having an opinion on war, politics or famine.

well, we dissagree.

Are you suggesting that only Google employees can hate and distrust Facebook?

It is weird that Facebook always get bashed for privacy and Google (who is even worse in that aspect) always get a free pass, just saying.

Google gets bashed for privacy in every single thread that has a word "ad" in it, and then in every single Google thread.

"Google (who is even worse in that aspect)"


Are you a Google advocate?

Are you a Facebook shill? See, the paranoia cuts both ways.

That's like what a mother tells a child to explain why the other kids are being mean to her: "they're just jealous of how pretty you are." And Hacker News talks shit about Google all the time. HackerNews is populated by youngish programmers: they're concerned about technology and the privacy and social implications that these policies bring.

> However 97 are worryingly labelled “not marked as safe yet”.

That's the problem.

It should be a positive notification only, without any negative one. People can say they are safe (I see value in that). But facebook should not say anything at all if someone has not declared themself safe.

This. And especially this when Facebook knows I'm active on my account 60 miles away, and has a huge amount of data that suggests I never had any connection to that area, never mind the specific residential address the fire took place in.

Facebook had a far more legitimate reason to publicly not mark me as safe from an attack in a busy commuter area outside Borough Market a few days after I'd visited it and used Whatsapp there, but I'll have to check whether a friend asking me if I was alive (I was overseas with data turned off) was driven by genuine or Facebook-UI-induced concern

I've said it before here, and I'll say it every time it's relevant:

Stop using Facebook. Start telling your friends and family to do the same. As the "smart computer person" in many people's lives, you can be the voice they need to hear.

What rationale could I possibly give someone to stop using Facebook that would convince them to forgo all of the value they get from it?

Exactly this.

I don't understand why people on HN (Quora too) act all high and mighty and tell people to quit all social media like it's some curse. I understand that social media can be mentally debilitating, but not everyone has this problem. I'm 18, I use Facebook on a daily basis and I don't feel addicted to it.

And even if there is minimal value in using it, so what? I like using it and that's all that matters to me. The day Facebook takes over so much that my work is affected, I'll quit it. I already quit it once and I felt no big difference in life.

People still view the internet as some sort of external luxury that we have. It's not. It's a part of our culture right now and will remain so in some form forever.

Actual empirical studies that show they DON'T get any value from it, and that it actually makes people more miserable on the whole?

I don't think people care about "empirical studies" telling them something contrary to their own experience.

Right, because people still believe the sun revolves around the Earth.


There are dozens of studies, just Google Facebook depression study.


There's obvious abstract reasons why they should stop using it:

1. Facebook knows about all of your interactions on Facebook, and they probably know what you are buying and what sites you visit through tracking mechanisms. In real life we call those people stalkers.

2. What utility are they really getting? Is keeping up with every part of your friend's life (or the good parts they show you) really worth the stress and anxiety of feeling like you are missing out? It's fake utility. People somehow existed for something like 300,000 years without this utility, so what value is really there?

That being said, it's designed to get people addicted and the immediate "utility" is a lot stronger than any abstract worries, so there's probably nothing you can say.

The HN set really doesn't seem to understand where the value of Facebook actually is. It's not the feed. The feed is mind numbing, time wasting garbage. It's being able to communicate and organise things, with all your friends, in the one place. It's in Facebook Messenger, which everyone has. It's in events organisation and events discovery. It's in groups.

Facebook supplies a directory of everything happening in my city, algorithmically curated against things Facebook thinks I will like and which my friends have said they're interested in attending. It lets me organise my own events, and communicate easily with attendees, who can see which of their friends are attending and make plans. It lets me make contact with people I briefly met in person but wouldn't have grabbed their phone number/wouldn't text them out of the blue yet (because who does that?).

This kind of utility is completely dependent on having a critical mass of people you know who actively use the platform. I'm 29, live in NYC, pretty active and social. On the odd occasion that I do go on Facebook it seems that the bulk of my ~500 'friends' who are still active on it are like...people I worked with in a summer job in 10th grade who post mostly memes. The events I get invited to are pseudo-spam bulk invitations.

I honestly would feel the opposite about getting a new acquaintance's contact information vs looking them up on Facebook and sending them a message. I've been going to a lot of weddings recently and phone/email exchange has been common, and I have yet to be asked "are we friends on Facebook? I'll put these pictures up there", which was a very common thing in years past.

I think it certainly helps that FBM is the communication standard in Australia - the only SMS I get now are sent by computers, and iMessage never really caught on. This gives some lock in, even if you don't actively use the website or the app. It is assumed that if you want to contact someone after meeting them you'll just look them up in messenger.

Yours is an interesting perspective because I tend to assume that people on HN who say "just call your friends" are less social and don't have as many people they want to catch up with. Honestly events and groups are the real utility - there's where everything I care about happens on Facebook itself (aside from Messenger - which is good, but we would be doing the same thing elsewhere if it didn't exist).

Though the feed is still terrible - I keep my friends list relatively trimmed (~200 people) and it's still rubbish.

I just call my friends up. Crazy, I know.

I don't need an algorithmic feed to tell me what my interests are and what my friends are doing because I know the first and there are other ways of doing the latter that don't involve giving up my privacy.

> I just call my friends up. Crazy, I know.

There's nothing wrong with calling friends up, but that takes a lot of work and a synchronous connection between two people. There are hundreds of people I want to know about or stay in touch with but don't have the time to call them all up individually.

Facebook makes being friends easier. That's a pretty solid value add. I would probably lose a lot of friends more easily if I didn't have Facebook.

You may not value that, but I find it much more valuable than the value I'd gain from making sure Facebook doesn't know enough about me to show me relevant ads.

How about email?

A terribly inconvenient way to send/see pictures, organize events, etc. Facebook does what it does very, very well. I don't feel the need for a replacement.

Well, hey. There's the utility I guess - it makes something I want to do (find out how and when I can hang out with my friends) much simpler than it was previously. If I want to see some live music on a Thursday it's a lot easier to mark myself as "interested" on the gig and see who contacts me about wanting to come along than messaging or calling the 30-40 people who might be interested.

> Facebook knows about all of your interactions on Facebook, and they probably know what you are buying and what sites you visit through tracking mechanisms.

So what? I mean that earnestly - why is it inherently bad if a company knows a lot about me?

> What utility are they really getting? It's fake utility.

Do you really believe that easily keeping up with friends is "fake" utility? You really think that billions of people log on to a website every day that provides no "real" utility?

> People somehow existed for something like 300,000 years without this utility, so what value is really there?

People existed for a long time without the the lightbulb, automobiles, the wheel, computers, etc. You're basically arguing that there can't be any utility in anything new.

> why is it inherently bad if a company knows a lot about me?

With enough data about you (Facebook collects more than enough) it becomes easy to manipulate you (blackmail, "targeted advertising" aka propaganda, etc), and your pattern-of-life can be sold for profit. Data doesn't go away and we keep inventing more powerful analysis methods, so the risk, that collected data will be used against you only increases with time.

Claiming that this risk doesn't exist or isn't likely to happen requires showing how Facebook won't lose control of the data to any future hacker, government, or buyer with a sufficiently large cash offer. Pretending otherwise is a just-world fallacy.

42% of the US population smoked daily. You really think that a hundred million people lit up daily with no "real" utility?

Fair point - people finding value in something doesn't imply that it's a net positive.

That said, I'm not convinced that the value Facebook provides is net negative.

For all its flaws, there's nothing that can actually replace the functions of Facebook, especially if you have a lot of friends and family all over the world.

It's a centralised platform where I can message almost everyone I know, and put people in group chats.

It's also very useful to be able to tell at a glance where people are, and get updates as to what people are doing or where they are going, and also to be able let other people know where I am or what I am doing.

It does have its fair share of issues, like too many posts from pages showing up, or people tagging other people in posts showing up. It also has its ethical issues, but for me they are outweighed by the power and convenience of the platform.

I'm busy shutting down a throwaway FB account that I used to sign up to Spotify back in the day.

They don't make it easy.

The process, according to Spotify support, is:

+ Create a new Spotify account

+ Contact Spotify support to migrate playlists etc. across.

+ Cancel my paid subscription on the old account.

+ Create a new paid subscription on the new account.

+ Migrate my family members onto the new account.

This is reminiscent of Microsoft's strategies back in the 90s, to make it incredibly difficult to ship a PC w/o DOS (and later, Windows).

Was there a time, and if so was this throwaway FB account part of it, when you could only sign up to Spotify with a FB account? I was a paying member of Spotify for about two years and my account wasn't tied to FB but Spotify had already been around for a few years prior.

> Was there a time, and if so was this throwaway FB account part of it, when you could only sign up to Spotify with a FB account?

Yes from the early beta Spotify had it's own account system, then it switched to all new accounts must be FB but legacy accounts could still sign in. This was a while ago though around the time I stopped using it.

I'm unsure - I think there was, based on forum chatter. Certainly if there was another way to sign up when I did, I was unaware of it.

I would like to stop, but the devil is in the details.

Facebook is used for many social and business events. I get a lot of work via contacts that come through facebook. Withought it I'm certain I would miss out on some of these. I'd also miss out on keeping up with family abroad.

Do you have any suggestions?

4 years later, and I have missed out on invitations to a few parties I probably didn't want to go to, and one that comes to mind that I did want to go to, but found out about with enough time anyway. I honestly believe they've done a fantastic job convincing you it's more important to you than it is.

It sounds like from your examples you're the perfect case for lock-in they are after. It's penetrated your business and family life so much you're afraid to leave it. That bothered me when I started to feel like that, which is why I left. Since then so many other things have happened (there's a link-fest from another commenter on this thread that I won't bother to compete with - thanks) that I'm pretty good with accepting that I might have missed out on a few things as a result.

Just use it occasionally then.

I deleted my account and was "clean" for a few years, but last year decided to sign up again.

I only use it occasionally, maybe once or twice a week. It's nice to catch up with family and friends, and it's very simple to filter out the cruft that you have no interest in.

> I've said it before here, and I'll say it every time it's relevant

What makes this one of those times?

OP might have meant when Facebook exhibits another attribute closely resembling a skinner box [1]. Or the use of their platform as a world scale behavioral analysis experiment.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operant_conditioning_chamber

"An operant conditioning chamber permits experimenters to study behavior conditioning (training) by teaching a subject animal to perform certain actions (like pressing a lever) in response to specific stimuli, such as a light or sound signal. When the subject correctly performs the behavior, the chamber mechanism delivers food or another reward. In some cases, the mechanism delivers a punishment for incorrect or missing responses."


"Facebook made its Android app crash to test your loyalty"


"Facebook addiction ‘activates same part of the brain as cocaine’"


"Narcissism on Facebook: Self-promotional and anti-social behavior"


"Facebook Manipulated 689,003 Users' Emotions For Science"


"#facebook emotional contagion study effect sizes are small--probably nobody was driven to suicide. #jokingnotjoking http://www.pnas.org/content/111/24/8788.full …"

I don't know which is more disturbing: that Facebook, by including this feature, seems to presume itself a ubiquitous public utility, or that it could actually become one.

It wasn't long ago that Facebook was being criticized for not enabling Safety Check:


>Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg committed to turning on Safety Check in more human disasters going forward, responding to criticism that the company turned on its safety feature for Paris but not for Beirut and other bombings.

No, they were criticized for inconsistently using safety check (for Paris and not Beirut). That's a very different thing.

The phrase "responding to criticism" appears twice in your link and "the criticism" appears once. There are no sources for the actual criticism or where it appeared, it's like an abstract thing. Such is Techcrunh

Here is a case where FB was criticized for not turning on their safety check feature. I've seen similar for events in Africa that went without FB's safety check feature being turned on.


Edit: Found the African event:


>"Lebanese blogger Joey Ayoub, who studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, wrote in a blog post on Saturday: “These have been two horrible nights. The first took the lives of over 40 in Beirut, the second took the lives of over 100 in Paris.

Mr Ayoub’s blog post has been shared over 10,000 times on Facebook, according to Aljazeera."

One person sits down and takes the time to be thoughtful and compose actual criticism. 10K do nothing but click a link to share it. Is that the same as 10,0001 individual criticisms?

>But by making Safety Check a default expectation Facebook flips the norms of societal behavior and suddenly no one can feel safe unless everyone has manually checked the Facebook box marked “safe”.

I'm not buying this statement. Where is the evidence of this? The article features two tweets from nondescript people stating they think the feature spreads unnecessary fear, but features no tweets from people who actually felt unnecessary fear. Are there any cases of people who felt afraid because their loved ones didn't check in even though they could have? Otherwise to me this argument is just speculation.

It's not speculation, in my opinion, because the "Safety Check" feature gives the impression that every human being potentially affected by a terrorist attack/natural disaster/unfortunate circumstance is completely and totally unsafe (killed, raped, beaten, burned, and so on) lest they broadcast their safeness to Facebook.

It's one thing to scream "FIRE!" in a crowded theater, but is it not equally damaging to imply that loved ones are in danger lest they broadcast their safety on your platform?

>It's not speculation, in my opinion

If its not speculation, then presumably there is some evidence of people actually complaining about this?

The complaints are all of the form 'I think people may not like it because of the following rational reasons' rather than 'I was in a disaster and failed to mark myself as safe and all my family became worried about me unnecessarily '

For whatever its worth, I've been in disaster areas a couple of times - Facebook asked me to mark myself as safe, I ignored it - and literally nothing happened. Because when there's a disaster, people have better ways of communicating their safety than posting on facebook.

>but is it not equally damaging to imply that loved ones are in danger lest they broadcast their safety on your platform?

Facebook aren't implying this, you're suggesting that people are inferring this. Again, without any evidence. I have yet to hear anybody actually complain that they were afraid because one of their loved ones didn't check in. I haven't been on either end of this feature yet, but from the article it looks like the wording to potential victims is "We want you to know that you can use Safety Check to post that you're safe" and for the loved ones of potential victims, that they are "not marked as safe yet". This doesn't sound like an implication of anything to me, but then again I'm not the sort of person to infer that my friends are unsafe because they haven't told me explicitly that they are safe, Facebook or otherwise.

It seems you mistyped "Facebook" where you meant "mainstream media". The very reporting on that stuff is what makes you feel everyone is affected. What Facebook's Safety Check does is reduce the number of people calling everyone they know potentially in the area - potentially helping to avoid overloading the cellphone networks.

I was in Paris during the bombings, and the Facebook interface then showed 'friends in the area, who haven't checked in' - it goes out to all your friends, which increases the number of people who get worried.

Putting Safety Check activation in this protective, semi-algorithmic swaddling means the company can cushion itself from blame when the feature is (or is not) activated — since it’s not making case-by-case decisions itself — yet also (apparently) sidestep the responsibility for its technology enabling widespread algorithmic stress. As is demonstrably the case here, where it’s been activated across London and beyond.

We would be much better off if we stopped accepting fake apologies and 'the algorithm did it not us' excuses.

Facebook employees programmed this thing under, I assume, the direction of management. This is Facebook's fault not some magic, wibly, wobly force. It's one thing to have a bug, but this is working as specified.

Don't forget, FB's culture is to move fast and break things. That's ok when you're breaking features, that's not acceptable when you are breaking social norms, and that's what happens when they are so damn big.

They might be sorry, but you can dry a lot of tears with wads of cash. They never see any real consequences for their mistakes.

I noticed this last night as well. Someone I knew checked in to say they were ok. I looked at the news and saw that it was a building that housed 500 people, in one of the largest cities in the world.

It was the same recently when we had a storm in New Zealand, and they activated safety check for the entire country. I don't think it even ended up raining where I was at the time.

Do you have friends/family in remote countries? New Zealand is smaller than California and when crap goes down in Southern California I still have people asking me about it even though I live in Silicon Valley.

I can see the reasoning to just turn it on for all of New Zealand when it's something as big as a hurricane.

We live in Australia, and we had concerned family/friends on another continent contacting us after the 2016 earthquake in New Zealand to see that we were OK.

So you are definitely on to something.

I find it disturbing that FB sees itself as the arbiter of which events and what people are in need of alerting.

I don't. For many people it's their primary communication platform, and things like this are to a large extent driven by demand for such features in the wake of previous tragedies/disasters, after setting up impromptu groups or check-in mechanisms. It's not a simple problem to solve.

Now I don't think they're doing it very well and the fact that it's subject to the typical feature creep is a problem, but then feature creep is a general problem in software.

>"and things like this are to a large extent driven by demand for such features in the wake of previous tragedies/disasters, after setting up impromptu groups or check-in mechanisms"

Do you have a citation for this claim that 'FB is just answering the demand'?

>"It's not a simple problem to solve."

Who asked them to solve it?

Because I've seen people using ad-hoc organizing strategies on social media after previous disasters and and I've also seen people expressing desire for features. People and companies don't need to be asked in formal terms to solve problems, but often choose to offer tools in response to the a perceived demand for such.

I'm not obliged to provide citations for every personal observation I make in a short comment, or indeed in a long one. Try being less rude in future interactions.

I don't see anything disturbing. It's their platform and feature, they are not passing any global laws.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact