As a massive social media nerd, receiving an invitation to a press breakfast at Facebook’s Washington, DC office was majorly exciting. While there, I learned of several new features Facebook is offering with social good and safety benefits. Here are some key areas where Facebook has provided services that can benefit, protect and inspire Facebook users.
AMBER Alerts on Facebook
We sometimes receive text message alerts on our phone or forwarded messages about missing teens, but often the child in danger is thought to be far away from our location. Facebook, with its wealth of information about where people live, is in a unique position to access those individuals whom law enforcement determines might be near the child.
Through a partnership with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Facebook will distribute through the Facebook system any available information, including a photograph of the missing child, a license plate number, the name and description of the child and suspected abductor. The alerts will appear in News Feed, but will not trigger any notifications to a person’s phone.
The partnership began in January and was inspired by instances such as when in 2014 an 11-year-old girl was safely recovered after a motel owner recognized her from an AMBER Alert a friend had shared on Facebook. The woman called the police, and the child was found unharmed. Facebook is hoping to contribute to safe recoveries of children, such as the more than 725 families already helped from AMBER Alerts.
Facebook Safety Checks After Natural Disasters
When we hear of disasters around the world, often our first thoughts are ones of panic for those we love located near the crisis. Facebook has provided a feature that allows those located near disasters to quickly and efficiently alert friends if they are safe. Safety Check is a simple and easy way to say you’re safe and check on others in the affected area.
Facebook determine the locations of those near major disasters and send them a simple question, “Are you OK?” If you’re OK, you click or tap the “I’m Safe” button to let friends and loved ones know right away. You will also be notified when your friends say they are safe, and will provide a list of friends who may be affected by the disaster. Currently Safety Check is simply being utilized for very large natural disasters, such as major earthquakes. It is implemented on a case by case basis by the Facebook team.
Using Facebook Groups to Build Community (and make parenting easier)
I know that so many of us, me included, rely on our Facebook Groups to connect with our friends. For some, these support systems are life changing. Check out this inspiring video about a blind single mother who has created a Facebook Group, Jean’s Village, to fully connect with their loved ones and support network.
Building on Jessie’s story, at the breakfast I also learned about the strides Facebook is making in accessibility, specifically in assisting those who are vision impaired. Facebook’s VoiceOver app for iOs is the world’s first gesture-based screen reader, allowing people with impaired vision to experience the touchscreens of their iPhones and iPads. VoiceOver allows suers to interact with their screens, intuitively gauging location and context from audio cues.
Facebook’s Accessibility team is currently working with Artificial Intelligence to caption photos, so those with vision impairments can still experience the pleasure of the images their Facebook connections share. I saw the in-development product in effect, as the AI program told Facebook’s Matt King, who is blind, about the persons and background images in Facebook photos. (There is a great recent article about this accessibility technology in WIRED.)
Are there additional things you wish Facebook would do to assist users, specifically families?