Facebook’s Bangkok explosion Safety Check was a false alarm

Fake news has plagued Facebook over the last year, and now even seeping into Safety Checks.

The site’s Safety Check feature has been crucial during terrorist attacks and natural disasters, helping friends and families find out if their loved ones are safe during emergencies. It’s been activated across the world more than 335 times by its users, for events like hurricanes, mass shootings and terrorist attacks.

On Tuesday, the automated tool went haywire, pushing out an alert about an explosion in Bangkok, Thailand, citing “media sources” as a confirmation. It was deactivated within an hour.

One of the sites used as a link for readers to learn more was Bangkok Informer, which scraped a video from a 2015 bombing.

The link was automatically populated on the Safety Check, before any stories about the real event — a protester with fireworks — were published.

Facebook defended its decision to send out the Safety Check for the explosion in Thailand and said it verified the blast with a trusted source.

“As with all Safety Check activations, Facebook relies on a trusted third party to first confirm the incident and then on the community to use the tool and share with friends and family,” a spokesperson said.

A source familiar with the Safety Check over the explosion pointed to a protest at Bangkok’s Government House on Tuesday morning as the cause of the false alarm.

Local media reported the protester throwing “ping pong bombs,” which the Bangkok Post described as “giant firecrackers” from the rooftop of the Government Savings Bank. There were no injuries or explosions, but the commotion did send people watching into a scare.

In November, Facebook announced that it would no longer be activating Safety Checks on its own, instead, relying on its user activity to spread alerts. It works by tracking keywords indicating danger like “earthquake,” “shooting,” or in today’s case, “explosion” in concentrated areas.

Facebook’s Peter Cottle said at the company’s Social Good Forum that it would still work with a third-party security company to verify there was a real threat before rolling out the Safety Checks.

On the Safety Check for the explosion, the page noted that the check was “turned on based on the Facebook activity of people in the affected area.”