During emergencies like bushfires, people used to primarily look to radio or television for what to do. But increasingly, social media platforms like Facebook have become a primary source of information
But unlike other forms of mass media, Facebook doesn’t ditch its normal content in favour of emergency broadcasting when there’s an incident nearby.
On Tuesday, Facebook announced the rollout of a new feature that promotes information from trusted sources during a bushfire or other emergencies.
By the end of the year, Australia’s state fire services will be able to mark posts from their Facebook page — like say an update about a near bushfire — as a ‘Local Alert’.
This will send a Facebook notification to any person who follows the page. Additionally, the post will have an alert symbol to make it stand out in a user’s feed.
Access to Facebook’s Local Alerts will be rolled out to other eligible state and local government departments and services next year as well.
According to Facebook’s head of policy programs in Australia and New Zealand Alisha Elliot said the feature builds on the platform’s existing safety tools for bushfire season.
“We’re thrilled to be the second country globally to expand Local Alerts and provide local fire authorities and emergency services with another avenue to relay vital information needed in affected areas. As we approach another tough summer, Facebook will continue to support communities and keep them connected,” she said in a statement.
Despite its proliferation, social media won’t entirely replace other forms of media during times of crisis.
During an emergency like a bushfire, people need trustworthy information accessible wherever they are that’s relevant right now.
Social media platforms like Facebook — which requires internet access, allows anyone to share unverified information and is often algorithmically displayed rather than chronologically — can’t answer those needs.
But Facebook’s latest feature goes some of the way to helping with that.