September 29, 2022

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Facebook Safety Check In: Are you safe from the brush fires in Haifa? (Forest Rain)
It’s amazing how many things can be wrong with one little sentence.

Nov 24thwas the day fires started appearing in different places in Haifa. 60,000 people were evacuated from 12 neighborhoods in the city. The day before the fires were in Zichron Ya’acov. Throughout the week fires appeared in towns in the north and center of the country.

I don’t remember when I started getting Facebook notifications requesting I mark myself “safe from the brush fires.” At the time, I was more focused on the flames in my neighborhood than my social media notifications. When things started to calm down I could focus on the beeping of my phone. That’s when I began to get angry.

Before I go further, I want to make it very clear that Facebook is an example, a symptom indicative of an attitude. They are not the problem itself.

Activating the Safety Check In feature

I suppose I should be pleased Facebook decided to turn on the Safety Check In feature for us. Although the feature was invented and developed in Israel for Facebook I only remember it being used once before – when a parking garage in Tel Aviv collapsed, trapping a number of people. It seems that none of the terror attacks we’ve experienced have been deemed significant enough or of wide enough impact to merit turning on this feature.

In an article on Israel21c, they reported: In the wake of the Paris tragedy, some 4.1 million people checked in with friends and relatives using the Safety Check feature, and around 360 million people received automatic messages through it from friends in Paris who had marked themselves as “safe.”

The feature was initially intended for use in natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis. It was the enthusiastic response of users following the terror attacks in Paris that led Facebook to decide to apply the feature for “man-made disasters” as well.

The “brush fires in Haifa” were deemed significant enough to turn on the feature.

So why did I get angry?

There were two major issues in the one little question: “brush fires” and “safe”.

Brush fires

Brush fires are what happens in places like Australia when the weather is too dry. They are natural disasters, terrible and with some of the same outcomes as what we experienced. Brush fires spread over vast amounts of territory. They don’t spontaneously combust in multiple, disconnected neighborhoods. They also don’t begin with Molotov cocktails.

What we experienced was man-made, deliberate arson. It wasn’t a brush fire or a forest fire. It was people targeting everything we hold dear: our homes, our wildlife and our land.

In 2010 there was a terrible fire in the Carmel Forest (which is right next to Haifa). It was caused by human negligence, exacerbated by weather conditions and because of some poor decisions, caused the death of 44 people. That was a forest fire. It consumed trees. What we just experienced was a wave of fires deliberately ignited in green areas in the middle of neighborhoods.

One could say, “But Facebook didn’t know what caused the fires so they just said brush fires.” Yes. Maybe. On the other hand, on the day of the fires in Haifa the experts already knew that the fires that occurred the day before in Zichron were not natural. The bizarre suddenness of fires popping up within the neighborhoods of Haifa were, even then, very suspicious.

Within Israel there are still arguments regarding what extent of the fires were caused by arson. What media and political commentators from elsewhere are ignoring is the reason for these arguments, as if the existence of the arguments signifies lack of validity in the definition of arson terrorism.

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