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Facebook introduces a way to help your neighbors after a disaster

Facebook introduces a way to help your neighbors after a disasterLast year Facebook announced Community Help, a new part of its Safety Check feature designed to connect disaster victims with Facebook users in the area who are offering their help. Now whenever Safety Check is activated, Community Help will let users find or offer food, shelter, transportation, and other forms of assistance. After testing the feature in December, Facebook is beginning to roll it out today in the United States, Canada, India, Saudi Arabia, Australia, and New Zealand.

Facebook says Community Help represents a logical next step for Safety Check, which was first announced in November 2014. Initially, each Safety Check was essentially created manually by Facebook’s team.

In November, the company announced that Safety Check would become more automated. Global crisis reporting agencies send Facebook alerts, which it then attempts to match to user posts in a geographic area. When it finds a spike in user posts, coupled with the alert, Facebook activates Safety Check. The company says employees oversee the process to prevent false positives — something it hasn’t always succeeded at doing.

In discussions with relief agencies, Facebook says it found that disaster victims were often coming to Facebook in search of help — or to offer some. In some cases, product designer Preethi Chethan says, they were pasting Facebook posts into spreadsheets to help sort them.

Community Help is designed to make post-disaster matchmaking easier. You’ll find it inside Safety Check — go there in the wake of a calamity, and after marking yourself safe you can create a post seeking or offering help. For starters, Community Help will only be available after natural disasters and accidents.

The posts will show you whether you have friends in common with the person who posted, which Facebook said is designed to create trust. But will also warn users about the risks of these sorts of actions — reminding users to always meet in public, for example. And you must be 18 to use Community Help.

While the launch is limited to a few countries to start with, Facebook plans to roll it out more broadly in coming weeks and months, it said.
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