Facebook ‘bug’ asks if we’re safe from earthquake that hit Myanmar two years ago

The radius of the false Safety Check sent out by Facebook on May 16, 2018.

“Did you feel the earthquake?” people across Myanmar asked each other yesterday. Most people hadn’t felt anything, and those who did were wrong. There hadn’t been a recorded earthquake in Myanmar for over a week. The idea of the phantom earthquake, it turned out, was planted in our minds by Facebook.

On Tuesday afternoon, the social media platform asked residents of Myanmar, India, Bangladesh, and Nepal to respond to a Safety Check about an earthquake somewhere in Myanmar. Those who looked more closely could see that the earthquake in question struck on April 13, 2016.

For some reason, rather than responding to the Safety Check by selecting “DOESN’T APPLY TO ME,” many users selected “I’M SAFE,” which alerted each of these user’s friends that the user was safe, causing the notification to go viral and allowing more people to mark themselves safe from the two-year-old earthquake.

The virality of the false warning caused users to wonder: Why are we seeing this? One Twitter user speculated, perhaps playfully, that the false warning was a drill to gauge how quickly fake news on social media could “spread fear in a matter of hours.”

Facebook offered its own explanation early this morning:

The timing of the “bug” is unfortunate for Facebook, which is still attempting to rehabilitate its reputation in Myanmar following heavy criticism for allowing the spread of fake news and hate speech targeting the country’s Rohingya minority.

On Monday, Facebook introduced a new feature to allow users to report dangerous content in its Messenger app. The absence of this feature was specifically highlighted by civil society groups as one of the ways violent content was allowed to circulate for days before being flagged by the company.

However, despite the potentially dangerous ramifications of Facebook producing fake news during the height of its campaign to eliminate it, many netizens took the false earthquake warning lightly:

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