Facebook Aim to Make Aid Social With Community Help

Being able to mark yourself safe during a natural disaster or humanitarian crisis is a big deal, as if the aid knows where it's going, and who it's looking for, precious time and resources will be saved. Add to that all the anguish and anxiety that the friends and families of people in the local area won't have to suffer, and you have one of the most laudable developments to come out of social media, full stop.

It seems unfair to suggest that such a service is any way limited, or that it could be better, but lucky for me I don't have to sound like an asshole saying it because Facebook have actually improved the service already.

On Thursday, at their first 'Social Good Forum' in New York City, they introduced Community Help. It's a tool which pops up once you check in at a location to indicate that you're safe. That done, you're led to a page showing the safety statuses of other people nearby, as well as anyone using it to ask for help.

The 'help' in question can range from water to shelter to transportation, and the idea is that if you have the means to provide it, you should probably haul ass over to the marker and offer it. The plea posts have a written text portion, so the people in need of aid can let others know exactly what they need, leaving no room for confusion.

This kind of approach has already been applied in both Facebook groups and on Twitter during incidents like the flooding in India last year and it proved to be very effective. Once you get the word out about where people are and what they need, others with the resources and the means are often quick to respond. Humans are caring creatures really, but they need to know where to go and what to do.

What this tool does is remove the confusion brought on by trying to organise aid within a system which wasn't designed for that. In a Facebook group, or bannered beneath a hashtag, stuff is bound to get buried, wires are going to get crossed. With Community Help, the information goes straight to the people who are most likely to be able to use it.

This comes on the heels of the Safety Check feature become community triggered, where before the company needed to do it, but you could argue that Facebook did that more as a response to accusations of bias than anything virtuous. Doesn't matter now, though, end and means.

This is a really savvy move, and one which could ultimately end up saving lives. It does, of course, depend on having internet access, as these things always do, but the world is becoming more connected by the day, and that issue is dwindling. Facebook have fielded a lot of bad press over the past few weeks, some of it deserved, some of it not, but there's no denying that this is a big step forward.

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