Facebook Safety Check spreads panic in Bangkok with false 'major explosion' alert
Facebook's Safety Check feature helped spread false reports of a major explosion in Bangkok's city centre on St Stephen's Day, alarming residents of the city.
The feature, which allows Facebook users to mark themselves as safe to friends and family members after an event such as an attack or natural disaster, was activated due to a minor incident involving a protester throwing firecrackers at a government building.
However, the news reports accompanying Facebook's Safety Check notice carried headlines claiming an explosion had "rocked central Bangkok", which were copied from stories about a deadly attack last year and made the matter appear far more serious.
When a person marks themselves as safe, this notice appears in Facebook users' News Feeds and notifications, along with news stories about the specific incident in order to provide more information.
In this case, the stories, which are generated by an algorithm, featured a link to the website Bangkok Informer with the headline: "Thailand: Explosion rocks central Bangkok" along with the BBC's Breaking News image.
The page, was down for "maintenance" along with the entire Bangkok Informer website on Wednesday. It appeared to use a video from a 2015 BBC story about a bomb in Bangkok that killed 19 people and injured 120.
The Bangkok Informer is not known as a reputable news source, instead re-posting news from other places. A search for it yields only the website and a Twitter account with 1,645 followers.
The false story also made it onto the MSN website, which subsequently made it into the Safety Check alert. Both stories remain among the top links when searching Facebook for information about the Bangkok explosion.
The incident is Facebook's latest brush with "fake news", a criticism that has plagued the company in recent months. Deliberately false or misleading articles were widely-read thanks to Facebook sharing in the run-up to the US election, and Facebook's Trending Topics news feature has also occasionally highlighted false stories.
Mark Zuckerberg announced new tools to battle the problem this month, including making it easier to flag false stories.
The Bangkok Safety Check was not triggered by the fake news article, as some reports claimed, and Facebook insisted that it relies on trusted third-party reports before activating the feature.
"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," it said.
Safety Check was first used in 2014 for natural disasters, but was extended to other events after last year's Paris attacks. It sends a notification to users' friends informing them they are safe.