However, starting on Wednesday, Facebook is making the feature available for another purpose: Helping users access food, shelter, transportation, baby supplies, toiletries, equipment and other resources after a crisis. The new tool, called “Community Help,” lets people message other Facebook users directly to find or offer aid, and the posts are organized by location and category of request. To start, Facebook said the feature will be available after “natural and accidental incidents,” like an earthquake or building fire. Initially the tool will roll out in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and Saudi Arabia, with plans to expand to all countries across additional types of crisis, such as terrorist attacks.
“With Community Help people can find and give help and message others directly to connect after a crisis,” Facebook’s VP of social good Naomi Gleit said in a blog post. The social good team focuses on crisis response on Facebook, including suicide prevention, Safety Check and AMBER alerts, as well as tools for charitable giving.
“We saw the community do this on their own through Groups and posts, like in the aftermath of the flooding in Chennei, India, in 2015, but we knew we could do more. We also talked with experts, humanitarian relief organizations and our own in-the-field research to learn how to make it easier for people to find and give help,” Gleit continued.
Safety Check must first be activated in order for Community Help to become available. Events can trigger Safety Check if an approved global crisis reporting agency such as NC4 or iJET international alerts Facebook that an incident has occurred. Then if enough Facebook users discuss the event — which could mean hundreds of users in a small area or thousands of people in a big city — the social network may prompt them to mark themselves as safe or invite others to do so. Starting Wednesday, users within the initial release will be able to see the Community Help feature and contact users through Safety Check. To limit bad actors and prevent spam, post in Community Help will highlight whether the aid seeker and giver share any mutual friends, and Facebook won’t allow accounts that were created very recently, such as within a few hours of a disaster, to use the tool. The company said it will continue to assess the feature and make updates over time. Facebook said it is working to hone the tool so it ultimately requires no human oversight by employees.
“We want to see if it’s useful to people and if they’re matching,” said Facebook product lead Katherine Woo.
Safety Check was originally created to facilitate an existing user behavior on the social network. Facebook saw users turn to the social network to tell family and friends they were safe after disasters, such as the 2011 Japan tsunami, and created Safety Check in 2014. Facebook added the Community Help tool after observing the immense effort NGOs, communities and other organizations invested into sorting Facebook posts after a crisis to match people who could help one another and track people’s needs. Facebook saw that organizations often used Groups or documents to organize posts from the social network, but that the process was timely and redundant. To design the tool, Facebook did research interviews with people who had experienced a crisis to understand at which points they needed help in the wake of a disaster and what type of help they needed.