Since 2014, Facebook has offered a service called Safety Check in the wake of dangerous incidents. If you have the Facebook mobile app and are in an area hit by something like a natural disaster, Facebook may trigger a push notification asking you to verify your status. If you mark yourself as safe, the system will automatically add a post to your News Feed with that message, so anyone checking on you can see quickly that you’re okay.
Facebook also creates a dedicated page where users can check in on friends in the affected area and see breaking news. That last feature has become a vector for scammers and con artists looking to drive traffic to their services and sites. This morning, the Facebook Safety Check page for the deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas featured a video soliciting donations to a Bitcoin wallet, photos from the AANR Midwest American Association for Nude Recreation, and a story (since retracted), that described the shooter as a “Trump-hating Rachel Maddow fan.”
This isn’t the first time the Safety Check page has been targeted by those looking to spread misinformation or make a quick buck. In December 2016, the Safety Check feature suggested to users in Thailand that a large explosion from a bomb had rocked central Bangkok. It turned out to be little more than a firecracker, but the News Feed on the Safety Check site was quickly flooded with links to old or unrelated articles.
Facebook recently expanded Safety Check into something it calls the crisis response hub, which includes Safety Check, Community Help, fundraising tools, and a mix of public photos, videos, and posts. Around 12:30PM this afternoon, many of the suspicious links were removed. The News Feed has since been largely locked in place. During the course of the morning, it changed rapidly, often showing stories that were minutes old. The most up-to-date stories on the page now are all at least one hour old.
The Verge has reached out to Facebook for comment. Earlier today, Facebook offered a brief statement to Fast Company, one of the first outlets to report on the strange posts appearing on the Safety Check page: “Our Global Security Operations Center spotted the post this morning and removed it. However, its removal was delayed by a few minutes, allowing it to be screen captured and circulated online. We are working to fix the issue that allowed this to happen in the first place and deeply regret the confusion this caused.”