CHICAGO — Facebook put out a safety check for violent crime in Chicago Thursday, adding the feature locally after a series of users posted about a shooting.
Safety checks allow Facebook users to indicate to one another that they are "safe" if they have been in an area hit by violence or a national disaster. They've been sent out to people around the world after mass shootings, bombings, tornadoes and other incidents.
On Facebook, users chatting about the check said they believed it had been sent after a shooting in the Back of the Yards neighborhood left two people dead and two othes wounded. A 16-year-old girl who witnessed the shooting also died after having an asthma attack while running away.
When Chicagoans got the "violent crime" alert Thursday, it was a new, community-driven safety check sparked by people in the area posting about a specific shooting incident, according to a Facebook spokeswoman.
After an algorithm detected multiple people in the same area posting about a similar shooting incident, a third party company confirmed that a violent crime had taken place. Then, an alert was sent to those who had posted about the shooting allowing them to mark themselves "safe" and ask friends and family if they were also effected by the incident.
When the alert reached Brady Chalmers at his Evanston home Thursday morning, he said he was shocked. But as a digital media consultant, he was intrigued.
"In my recollection, I've never seen this done before unless it was some kind of mass-casualty event, like an earthquake or a terrorist attack," said Chalmers, a digital strategist for SEIU Healthcare. "It makes you wonder: Why did they roll this out, and who was it targeted to?"
The spokeswoman said the community-generated "violent crime" alerts have been used in Texas and Canada and Thursday, in Chicago. In the case of the Chicago alert, it was turned off by 12:45 p.m. and the company did not send out notifications to all users. Instead, those who got the alert had either posted about the incident or been flagged by someone else who received the safety check alert.
In some cases, if an incident escalates, Facebook will decide to notify everyone in the area.
Some Facebook users lamented the check, saying they worried it was a sign Chicago has become unsafe. In the last seven days, 79 people have been wounded and 13 have been killed in shootings throughout the city.
Chalmers said it was odd that the alert seemed to target black Chicagoans, but other users of different races told DNAinfo they received the alert as well.
"We already know Facebook segregates people by their political views, even among their own friends," he said. "But the idea that they can sort us into these boxes where you get different information based on your race...that's slightly terrifying."
A Facebook spokesman said the company is trying out new things with the feature, which is a work in progress.
"We’ve seen how Safety Check can helpful tool to people in times of crisis and we recently started testing ways to allow communities to activate the tool on their own. We are continuing to learn from each activation, as we did today in Chicago."
Chicago has come under scrutiny for its sharp uptick in shootings and homicides this year. More than 370 people have been killed so far this year.
You know Chicago is unsafe when Facebook have a safety check-in. 😩— Corey A. Hardiman (@HopeDealerCH) July 28, 2016
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