Why FB’s “Marked ‘Safe” feature rubbed New Yorkers the wrong way
On Wednesday, a commuter train from Long Island came barreling into Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn at over twice the speed limit, hit the blockade at the end of the tracks, and derailed, injuring over 100 people and terrifying the city. People from around the world began texting their loved ones in Brooklyn, as they refreshed Facebook, anxious to see who among their friends would be the next to be marked “Safe.”
I received a text from a friend in Pittsburg asking “OMG are you alright???”
Everyone in New York Metro began to receive word from worried friends and family who had heard about the disaster. Unfortunately, the disaster turned out to be underwhelming:
The train was indeed doubling the speed limit, but the speed limit in the station is 5mph. According to the NYT, the train was traveling at “more than 10 mph”.
They reported over 100 people injured, but according to Governor Cuomo, it was difficult to say exactly how many, because many of the "injured" had left the scene. He added that the most serious injury was a “possible broken leg.” Brooklyn Hospital Spokeswomen Joan Clark said, regarding the injured, “Everyone is in pretty good shape.” It even turned out that the “possible broken leg” was not, in fact, broken.
By the time these facts emerged, it was too late – Facebook’s tragedy-detecting algorithm had been set in motion, and finally, millions of New Yorkers were able to unlock the new online achievement “Disaster Survivor.” As more people checked-in “safe,” more people became worried. Never mind that nobody was seriously hurt. Never mind that nobody who lives in Brooklyn would have even been on that train. My friends didn’t understand when I responded to their concerned calls and texts with an exasperated Napoleon Dynamite-esque throaty sigh.
“UGHHHHHHHHHHHH… yes. I’m ok.
In a city of 8-million people, we are constantly witnessing and coping with all varieties of nonsense. Just a few weeks ago, everyone at my bar was late to work because someone fell off of a subway car and got decapitated. I’m able to phone an ambulance for someone laying in the middle of the road bleeding while talking with a coworker about where to go for dinner. We recognize that 9/11 happened and we accept that something like that could happen again at any time. This is part of living New York City.
The so-called “Train Accident in Brooklyn,” probably wasn’t the worst thing to happen in NYC this week, or even that morning. It probably wasn’t even the worst part of the day for most people on the train. I mean, they actually got to the station ahead of schedule. But for some reason, Facebook had decided this event was serious enough that everyone in the world should be notified. Well, it turns out, it actually wasn’t Facebook that made the decision.
In mid November, Facebook issued this statement:
Safety Check will (now) be turned on by our community instead of Facebook …Once an incident occurs, a third party source alerts Facebook… If a lot of people in the area are talking about the incident, they may be invited to mark themselves safe.
So, a train crashed at more than 10mph, a “third-party” notified Facebook, people in Brooklyn were talking about it, and all of a sudden everyone I’d ever met received notification that I might be in danger. It seems to be the first major gaffe following the implementation of the new algorithm, and will hopefully be recognized and adjusted again, because false alarms and crying wolf have real implications, according to my 2nd grade teacher, my mom, and now me, not least of which is everyone i know thinking i'm dead when i'm actually just hung-over in bed thinking i'm dying.
I’m sure there are many people out there who feel left out by all the disasters constantly happening around the world, and long to one day mark themselves “safe,” and I understand that. People generally want to be as close as possible to a tragedy without it actually touching them. We all want to survive something terrible and let everyone know that we’re alright, because if we have to let people know that we’re safe, it means that there are people who care if we are safe or not. That feels good.
We’re all on the same quest for endorphins, but this is not the way. You must wait patiently for the bad things to actually come. You have to have faith. Trust me: The bad things will come. This is New York City. The Village Voice has an article called “20 ways to die in New York City,” and they’re all things that people actually die from. It CAN happen near YOU. And if you really want to be able to mark yourself “Safe,” and you just CAN’T wait, move to Turkey.
I could not bring myself to mark myself “Safe” for the Train Accident in Brooklyn. I may as well mark myself safe at the end of every day. Is it hard to imagine this:
Facebook’s latest feature allows users to check in daily to let their friends know that they are still alive and well. If a user has gone more than a few days without Checking- In, Facebook will notify the user’s friends. “Hey there, Brad! Your friend Gustav hasn’t checked-in “Alive” in a while! Send Gustav a message to make sure he's alright.
I appreciate your concerns, family, friends and loved ones. Yes, I survived the Train Accident in Brooklyn, and I am ok. A little shaken up, but that just might be from seeing that biker get hit by a car on my walk home.
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