Orlando shootings bring Facebook's safety check to US soil

Unlikely to be the last time

In the wake of the murder of 49 people in Orlando on Sunday morning, Facebook users in the US got their first real taste of the company's Safety Check service.

"Waking up this morning, I was deeply saddened to hear about the shooting in Orlando. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and the LGBT community," said Mark Zuckerberg. "We've activated Safety Check, but the biggest need over the next few days will be for people to continue to donate blood."

Facebook introduced the system in 2014, and said it was inspired by the use of social media in the wake of the 2011 earthquake in Japan. It automatically pings any users in the geographical area of a disaster reminding them that they might want to reassure their friends that they are OK.

The feature has since been used for terrorist attacks and natural disasters more than a dozen times, and alerts were accidentally sent out in the US in March after a suicide bombing in Lahore, Pakistan. But the tragic events in Orlando this weekend introduced US users to a real test of the system.

At 2:00am on Sunday morning, a heavily armed American man entered the Pulse nightclub, a popular gay hotspot in Orlando, and began shooting using firearms he had purchased legally the week before. The shooter, who called 911 and proclaimed he was acting on behalf of ISIS just before the attack, killed 49 party-goers and injured around 50 more before being shot by police.

Pulse warning

Social media started firing up within minutes of the attack

Given the early hour, information about the victims was sketchy and rumor and misinformation swirled around. People hiding inside the club texted relatives and footage of the shootings in progress was broadcast on Snapchat.

By 5:00am, when police stormed the building and shot the gunman, relatives were frantic, since so few of the victims had been identified. It's hoped that features like Safety Check might have brought release to anxious friends. ®

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