Facebook Safety Check Mistakenly Activates In Bangkok Over Fake News Story

Facebook, the largest social network on the planet, has been criticized for not doing a better job at thwarting fake news. That criticism is unlikely to subside Facebook's Safety Check feature altered users in Bangkok to an "explosion" in the Thai capital that turned out to be nothing more than fireworks. However, the spread of fake news and bad information led Facebook astray on this one.

A protestor on Tuesday threw firecrackers at a government building in Bangkok. The incident triggered Facebook's Safety Check feature at around 9:00 PM local time, which in turn created a page titled "The Explosion in Bangkok, Thailand." People in the area started marking themselves as safe so that friends and family would know that they were out of harm's way. Only in this case, there was no harm to be worried about.


Apparently a "trusted third party" confirmed the incident with Facebook, though on hindsight the source was obviously wrong. It also did not help that the page created by the Safety Check feature posted a link from a website referencing a BBC breaking news video about an explosion in Bangkok that was taken in 2015.

To be fair, Facebook's Safety Check feature was created with good intentions and it can be useful in emergency situations. This was not one of those instances. Facebook sent out automatic requests to people in the area to mark themselves as safe. Seeing the logo of a legitimate news organization attached to the accompanying news article led many people to assume that an explosion really had occurred and that the information was reliable before scanning the date, which was marked August 17, 2015.

Facebook may have to rethink how its Safety Check feature works. When it was first introduced in 2014, the social network would manually activate the feature during emergency situations. That task was passed on to the community at large by the end of the year, and now trusted third parties alert Facebook to incidents. When Facebook receive an alert, it checks to see if users in the area are chatting about the event.

It is obviously going to take some time for Facebook to get a handle on fake news. The problem gained widespread attention during the recent U.S. presidential election. Facebook essentially dismantled its Trending Stories team following accusations that individuals were suppressing politically conservative news stories, but the algorithm that took their place has been doing a poor job at vetting legitimate stories. On the plus side, Facebook is at least aware that it has a problem and is actively working to fix it.