The unprecedented attacks on Paris on November 13, 2015, saw a rise in activity on Facebook, motivating the leading social network to turn on Safety Check, a feature previously reserved for natural disasters. Introduced in October 2014, and borne out of the use of social media during the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Facebook Safety Check aims to provide its 1.55B users with a simple and easy way to ensure friends and loved ones are safe and sound.
Personally, I breathed a sigh relief when I saw that my acquaintances in the Paris area were marked safe by Facebook. That said, when it comes to your assurance that family and friends are safe, nothing compares to hearing a loved one’s voice.
Here at Sinch, we experienced a dramatic increase in call volumes to Paris immediately following the attacks:
Before Paris, Facebook Safety Check was activated five times in 2015, after earthquakes in Nepal, Afghanistan and Chile, as well in the aftermath of Typhoon Ruby in the Philippines and Tropical Cyclone Pam in the South Pacific. In an effort to discover whether call volume patterns were similar to those after the Paris attacks, we pulled call data from the dates surrounding the 2015 Afghanistan and Chile earthquakes.
You’ll notice that the number of calls per hour saw a dramatic spike in both countries during the aftermath of these natural disasters, even with the activation of Facebook Safety Check. With all three events in Paris, Chile, and Afghanistan, call volume remained higher than average for at least 2 days after the original incidents, and later normalize as expected.
This data reaffirms that during life-threatening emergencies, the importance and reliability of our communications infrastructure become more important than ever. The first thing victims and friends and family of victims of a natural disaster or attack seek to do is find out who’s safe.
According to a recent Atlantic article,
“The industrial design of mobile phones [today] has only exacerbated the unreliability and awkwardness of telephony. But there was a time when phone design was central to the feeling of intimacy and warmth and comfort we once associated with the telephone.”
Though today there is a general decline in the use of phones for actual phone calls, in times of emergency, that feeling of intimacy, warmth, and comfort is once again associated with the phone call, even when there are services available to us that are as easy to use and unintrusive as Facebook Safety Check.
We wanted to know, are people as drawn to speak to each other on the phone during other major events that may not be life threatening? We pulled the call volumes from the dates surrounding July 20, 2015, the day the banks reopened in Greece, a hope-filled landmark moment during the ongoing Greek debt crisis, and we found that there was indeed an increase in the number of calls per hour to Greece.
When it comes to connecting with friends and family, in times of good or bad, there is not yet a social media feature or means of communication that can replace the comforting experience of hearing the voice of a loved one on the other end of the line.
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