Thursday 19 November 2015

Facebook Offers A French Flag; Concerned Users Provide Choice, Facebook profile picture gives SumRando a new look.
If you’re one of the millions of people who check Facebook daily, you may have noticed a hostility in your news feed that wasn’t there a week ago. Users are upset that Facebook offered a flag in solidarity with the Paris bombings, but not one in support of Kenya; that Safety Check was turned on for Paris, but not Beirut; that they cannot express sympathy for Paris without being criticized for not sympathizing with other bombed cities; that the rights of refugees have been called into question…

Be it an act of recognition, apology, or pacification, Facebook activated Safety Check for the second time in less than a week, this time for Tuesday’s bombing in Yola, Nigeria. Historically, Safety Check had been reserved for times of natural disaster (think: April’s earthquake in Nepal), but Paris was the precedent that shifted the tool into the realm of human disaster.

Regardless, given that Nigeria’s Safety Check was not accompanied with a flag overlay, it’s clear that Nigeria has been given the ‘Free Basics’ treatment, if also likely that Facebook had little interest in perpetuating the very flag war it had begun.

A disaster is one of the few reasons we can imagine a user would want to broadcast their location and status to others; for that, we applaud Safety Check and its growing ubiquity.

Regarding flag overlays, however, we remind you that your Facebook page is just that: your page. Facebook’s suggestions are always yours to leave or take; your profile picture is yours to modify as you see fit. 

Facebook has been littered with French flags in the past week, but there are also countless examples of users taking matters into their own hands. Of note:
  • was created to add an overlay of flags from all countries attacked by ISIS to profile pictures. The website includes 27 countries and welcomes submissions of any countries overlooked.
  • Facebook user Hubert Southall posted “All cries need to be heard” and has offered to create any overlay not provided by Facebook for any user in need.

No platform is perfect, but what Facebook has always done well is enable users to express themselves to friends and the public as they (more or less) wish. The hostility of the past week demonstrates that Facebook users everywhere want equal treatment and also that messages are perhaps best expressed without Facebook’s prompting.

SumRando Cybersecurity is a South Africa-based VPN, Web Proxy and Secure Messenger provider.

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