- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Facebook on Tuesday activated its “Safety Check” feature for users in Brussels, but it drew fire from critics who condemned the social network for waiting roughly two hours after a series of blasts ripped through the Belgian capital.

First used in Fukushima, Japan, following the 2011 tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster, Safety Check allows users of the social network to easily notify friends and family of their status in the wake of a localized tragedy.

“Quickly find and connect with friends in the area,” reads a prompt on the Safety Check paged rolled out Tuesday in the wake of the Brussels attacks. “Mark them safe if you know they’re OK.”

As tensions ran high in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, however, Facebook users took to other mediums to scrutinize the social network for waiting around two hours after Tuesday morning’s blasts before activating the feature.

“Belgium friends are asking why Facebook has not switched on their safety check feature yet. Frantic asking around if everybody is ok,” a Twitter user from London, Wessel van Rensburg, tweeted early Tuesday.

“Can @Facebook turn on the ‘safety check’ feature in Belgium already?” tweeted Robin Wauters, a tech editor from Brussels. The feature is “such a useful thing… if it gets turned on quickly in events like these,” Mr. Wauters added.

Safety Check had only been enabled by Facebook after natural disasters prior to last November when the social network activated the feature when terrorists went on a rampage in Paris, France. Facebook has since deployed the feature following similar attacks in Nigeria and Turkey.

“Communication is critical in moments of crisis, both for the people affected and for those far away who are anxious for news,” Facebook’s vice president of growth, Alex Schultz, said after Safety Check was enabled after November’s events in Paris.

On Tuesday, however, Belgians were left with few outlets to communicate with in the immediate aftermath of the attacks when the nation’s telephone networks became saturated with calls, prompting the government’s crisis center to recommend residents take to social media to update friends and relatives.

Internet providers Fon and Proximus said Tuesday that they have temporarily made over a million Wi-Fi hotspots free to use so Belgians affected by the attacks are able to easily get online.

A representative for Facebook said Tuesday that “more than 950 million people received a notification that a friend or loved one was safe in a crisis” during 2015, The Register reported.

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