On March 22nd, London was hit by a terror attack. A man at Westminster mowed down bystanders before attempting to enter Parliament with a knife. Four people were killed, including PC Keith Palmer, who was stabbed by the attacker. 40 others were injured, with, at the time of writing, seven in critical condition.
This is the largest scale attack London has seen in some time, and it sparked panic across the capital. In the wake of the act of terrorism, Facebook activated its safety check system, so Londoners could notify their Facebook friends that they were safe. I myself marked myself safe using the tool.
In the hours after the horrible attack, I started to notice a bizarre take being formed -- that Facebook safety check was embarrassing. Several people I follow on Twitter mocked the system -- 'We all know you weren't in Westminster, if something happened to one of my friends I would have heard, GAWD.' 'Stop being so dramatic, you were nowhere near it.' 'Attention-seeking.' 'Embarrassing.'
Now, I was nowhere near Westminster when the attack occurred. I had just left the gym at Monument and was going to work, with my building overlooking Tower Bridge. And my closest friends don't work near there either.
But none of my friends and family knew that.
I'm from Dublin, and have lived in London since late 2012. My family and friends have visited London, but they don't know where the Houses of Parliament are in relation to my job. Nobody really knows the geography of London unless you live in London -- yes we live in a bubble, but surprisingly, this city isn't the centre of the universe. Hell, I've been here nearly five years and still get lost pretty much every day. How is my second cousin going to know that I'm a) in work and b) six stops away from Westminster on the tube?
So following the news that an attack was going on, I received messages from my dad, my brother, an auntie, three cousins and four friends, all asking was I ok. Most of whom I'm friends with on Facebook. One click, and I'd informed my 460 friends -- most of them in Ireland, a lot of them family -- that I was safe.
This doesn't just apply to appeasing people in other countries. I'm sure many people living in North London checked in to calm down their auntie in Yorkshire who has never been to London but knows that you took a picture next to Big Ben last year so why wouldn't you be there again?
And just for people in London -- we don't know whether one of our journalist friends had been in the press gallery. We don't know if our housemate had a meeting in Westminster. We don't know if our partners went somewhere different for lunch today. Where is the harm in a check-in easing our minds?
I'm not saying the system is perfect -- following the activation of safety check following the Paris attacks, Facebook was criticised for not doing the same during attacks in Beirut. Things always need to be improved.
But yesterday was scary for Londoners. Yes, in relation to other European terror attacks, it was small scale. But for a person who thinks their loved one could be involved, it's world-destroying. And surely anything to provide peace and reassurance can only be a good thing.
I hope I don't have to use it again in the future. But if using safety check makes me dramatic, attention-seeking or embarrassing, I couldn't really care less if it wards off a freak-out from my extended family.
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