Facebook Marked Thousands of Users Safe After an ‘Explosion In Bangkok’ That Never Actually Occurred

Explosion In Bangkok

When Facebook (FB, -0.92%)activated its Safety Check feature on Tuesday in response to "The Explosion in Bangkok, Thailand" thousands of Thai users clicked to indicate their safety. Some wrote to family and friends and assured them that they were unhurt, the Bangkok Post reports.

Here's the thing, though: there was no explosion in Bangkok. At least not on Tuesday.

Nevertheless, as news of the blast spread around the world, the Post said it received inquiries from Asia and North America-based Thais worried about their relatives.

Thai journalist Saksith Saiyasombut tweeted an image of the Safety Check alert.

According to tech site The Verge, Thai Facebook users saw an alert to mark themselves safe at about 9p.m., local time. It was removed an hour later. Although there was scant details as to when or where the "explosion" occurred, the alert linked to an article about the 2015 bombing of Bangkok's Erawan shrine. The source: a site called Bangkok Informer, which gave no indication its stories referred to a bygone event.

Facebook's Safety Check has proved controversial since it was rolled out in fall 2014. The feature, originally intended to be used during natural disasters, was activated in response to terrorism for the first time during the November 2015 Paris Attacks. While many applauded the tool's utility, some questioned why it had been turned on for some attacks but not others, such as the Beirut bombing the previous day, which killed 43 people.

And in March this year, Facebook apologized for a glitch that prompted users in the U.S., U.K. and other countries to mark themselves safe after a bomb exploded in Lahore, Pakistan.

Facebook’s Safety Check feature helped promote a fake news story about a Bangkok explosion

Once again, Facebook is under fire for its role in the spread of fake news reports.

This time, the social network helped publicise an incorrect news story claiming that Bangkok had been “rock[ed]” by an explosion, promoting the report using its Safety Check feature — a tool that allows users to publicly mark themselves safe in the event of a natural disaster or terrorist attack.

The tool, which has previously been used in the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks and the Nepalese earthquake, was activated on December 27, and labelled “The Explosion in Bangkok, Thailand.”

At the top of the links section, it promoted a news article about an explosion, according to a screenshot captured by Channel NewsAsia journalist Saksith Saiysasombut. But Quartz reports that the explosion the article referred to actually happened in 2015, and the article has since been deleted.

Facebook did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment, but it has told other media outlets that Safety Check was not activated in response to the fake news story. Instead, it says, it was activated due to a protester who threw firecrackers at a government building: “Safety Check was activated today in Thailand following an explosion. As with all Safety Check activations, Facebook relies on a trusted third party to first confirm the incident and then on the community to use the tool and share with friends and family.”

No-one was injured in the protest, according to a report from Bangkok Post. It’s not clear how many people saw the incorrect news story as a result of Facebook’s actions, and the social network did not immediately provide clarification.

Facebook has faced scrutiny in recent months over its role in the spread of fake and fraudulent news stories. The social network and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, were initially dismissive of allegations that fake news may have influenced people’s decisions in the US presidential election, but it now professes to take the issue more seriously. Facebook will now label and fact-check fake news with the help of third-party partners like Snopes, the site says.

Facebook Safety Check creates false alarm in Bangkok

It allows Facebook users in danger zones to mark themselves as safe, but in this instance was triggered by a protester throwing firecrackers.

Facebook said it relied on a "trusted third party to confirm the incident".

But the way it was labelled misled many online as people started sharing false news of a blast.

Facebook has recently faced criticism for allowing fake news to proliferate.

What actually happened in Bangkok
On Tuesday, a protester threw small firecrackers at a government building in Bangkok (link in Thai).
According to Facebook, this triggered the Safety Check feature at about 21:00 local time which created a page titled "The Explosion in Bangkok, Thailand" and people started marking themselves as safe.
The page also pulled in a link from a website called bangkokinformer.com referencing a BBC breaking news video about an explosion in Bangkok, but the video was in fact taken in 2015 in reference to a blast at the Erawan shrine.

How the false story spread: Jonathan Head, BBC News, Bangkok
The first I knew something was wrong was a stream of messages asking if I was ok, and spotting friends marking themselves as safe in Bangkok. By the time my colleagues had made efforts to get the erroneous post taken down, it had circulated widely, within minutes.

It turned out Facebook was generating an automatic request to people to declare themselves safe, so even experienced journalists, who would have realised the story was not genuine, inadvertently gave it some credence by responding to the Facebook prompt.

In a country so dependent on tourism any report of a suspected terrorist attack is a serious matter. The BBC and other reputable media take great care when reporting news of such incidents, stating only what we can already confirm.

The latest false post spread quickly partly because people instantly saw the BBC's distinctive news logo, and assumed it was reliable before they checked the real date - 17 August 2015.

This is a real problem for a journalist based in a country where we are under close scrutiny, and subject to criticism by government officials and Thai citizens for reporting in what is still a sensitive political climate.

How does Safety Check work?
When Facebook first introduced the safety feature tool in 2014, it would activate the feature manually. In November, Facebook changed course and said it would now be activated "by our community".

Now, a third-party source alerts Facebook when an incident occurs. The social platform then searches to see if users in the area are discussing the incident.

If enough users are referencing the incident, those in the area are invited to mark themselves as safe.
According to Facebook, the title of the safety check is taken from the alert provided by the third-party source.

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