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Facebook: More Than Just A Glutton Of Your Time

14 Jun, 2017
Facebook using its superpowers for the social good

Facebook knows where you are, what you’re doing, all day long. Not only can Facebook keep up with you through the social networking platform it can reach in for information through Whatsapp, FB Messenger, or Instagram.

It’s not the BIg Brother, but given all that it knows about you, it might be close enough.

But for once, we’re saying this in a good way.

Facebook has close to 2 billion users around the world, and that is a massive number – it translates to one in every four people on God’s Green Earth uses one (or more) of Facebook’s platforms.
This kind of reach has bestowed Facebook with some special superpowers in the form of the amount of data it has, and that is a power that Facebook could use, to do a lot.
The social networking giant has decided to put to use the superpowers, this time for social good.

Let’s first talk about one of Facebook’s projects that it’s been piloting on the back end.

Realising it’s own potential to be of assistance during disasters, and it’s ability to aid crisis management efforts, Facebook has partnered with UNICEF, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the World Food Programme, aims to use maps to improve how communities receive help after disasters.

Facebook has put a system in place to collate user data post an incident, into three types of maps:
The first are the Location Density maps, which show where people are physically located before, during and after a crisis.
The second are Movement maps, which show patterns of movement over a period of hours. These can be used to help concerned organizations understand where people are moving to, in the crucial hours after an incident and thus enable them to direct help better.
The third are Safety maps, which display the data as per people checking in safely (yep, the same kind of checking-in that kept showing up on our screen last year after the Nepal earthquake), enabling the authorities to judiciously direct help by telling them where help is not likely to be needed.

This kind of information has the potential to change the way relief is provided in the aftermath of an incident.
We might know where the house is, but we don’t know where the people are. Our first reaction may be to go to where the devastation happened, but maybe most people are 10 miles away, staying with families when they reported they were safe. So the place to go may be where they are“, said Dale Kunce, global lead for Information Communication Technology and Analytics for the American Red Cross.

Facebook also offers Community Help in conjunction with Safety Check, which is a feature that lets people find or offer food, shelter, transportation, and other forms of aid.

Facebook, in their announcement post, showcased how the data will reflect on the maps. They showed what the maps looked like during the March floods in Peru and demonstrated how such information could provide crucial help to authorities during the aftermath of a disaster.

In fact, it is being said that Facebook leveraged it’s tools and provided assistance during the London Tower Inferno earlier today, however it’s too soon for us to be able corroborate that just yet.

This is not the first time that the social networking platform has been leveraged during disaster management.

In the past, disaster response professionals have relied on Facebook Live and other video tools, in order to gather information to help understand where and how to allocate resources.

It is clear that Facebook has a lot of data on users that sign up for it. With initiatives of this kind, Facebook is putting this data to constructive use, for social good. Facebook intends to roll out these maps for the use of governmental and other aid organisations, soon.

Facebook has also begun deploying another tool, for a less emergent, but no less critical task.

Facebook has begun deploying chatbots that talk about mental health in its Messenger.

It honestly seems like an odd conversation to have with a chatbot, but Woebot explains it in the first few lines as it appears on your screen.
So here’s how I work, I’m going to ask you about your mood and as I get to know you, I’ll teach you some good stuff“.

Woebot is a chatbot powered by artificial intelligence to improve your mood and even alleviate symptoms of depression.
The chatbot represents the very thin and risky line that Facebook seems to be walking, the line of innovation happening at the intersection of mental health care and technology. However, Facebook has been very clear; Woebot is not a replacement for therapy, or a therapist. It is a support mechanism and only that, at this point.

Woebot also has its limitations, and it is prompt to admit them, by recommending that you seek a “higher form of care” when it has run into things it can’t deal with.

Woechat is available at a monthly subscription of USD 39.

Another chatbot that Facebook has is Joe, which tracks your emotions and provides related tips on feeling better. Joe is also AI powered and available on the Messenger, but unlike Woechat, which is more advanced, Joe is a free service.

There is still a long way to go before mental health and therapy can be meaningfully conducted by robots, but the fact that Facebook is bringing something of the kind to the millions and millions of users it has is definitely a praiseworthy step.

Facebook has also been raising other important issues this month, with the celebration of the Pride Month, with the LGBTQ community.

Facebook is doing so with a number of new features, such as being able to now adorn your profile picture with a rainbow flag, or using the new rainbow flag reaction emoji you can select for posts and comments.
You can also choose from several masks and frames by selecting the magic wand tool on Facebook’s camera.
That’s not all. You can also start a fundraiser (a new feature that Facebook rolled out recently) to donate and collect money for to your favorite LGBTQ cause.

While these new features might not be the most that Facebook could have done, the idea of a Pride Month is certainly raising the issue on a global platform.
We are proud to support the LGBTQ community, and while more work still remains, we are eager to be active partners going forward“, Facebook’s Newsroom post said.