As with any natural disaster on the scale of Hurricane Matthew, it is difficult to stay in touch with loved ones. Internet service is limited, cellular networks are overwhelmed and phone calls are hit and miss. For the first time in the United States, Facebook's Safety Check will help family and friends check in with loved ones in the path of the storm.
Facebook Safety Check has been put into action 4 times in the United States, but never for a natural disaster affecting millions of people. If you're not familiar with it, you'll probably see it over the next few days.
The service was launched last year and was used during the Paris terror attacks, the Dallas police shooting and the Orlando nightclub shooting. Those incidents affected a relatively small number of Facebook users. Hurricane Matthew will affect millions.
Here's how Safety Check works:
Facebook users who are in an affected area will receive a notification asking if they are okay. That information is then posted to Facebook's Safety Check page and posted to their friends' Facebook pages.
It uses their phone's location settings for notifications. If a Facebook user hasn't given the network permission to use their location, Facebook will use the city they've posted on their profile and/or the city they typically access the internet.
The notification is automatically transmitted to all of their friends.
If a Facebook user has a dozen friends in the path of the storm they'll see who is there and whether they've marked themselves as safe. It will also keep track of who hasn't responded.
When it first launched, only Facebook could issue a safety check, but now a community can activate it. If a large number of people post a status about a specific incident and are in the affected area, they'll automatically be asked to mark themselves safe.
Safety Check has already been activated for Hurricane Matthew. It will be the first time in the United States that it's been implemented on such a large scale, so we will see how well it works. You will most likely see it on Facebook over the next several days.
Facebook says the information is only available among Facebook friends and nothing is shared to groups outside of the social network.