Alright so let do some math here, Consider, for instance, “The Tornado in Ottawa, Ontario and Gatineau, Quebec, Canada” a few months ago. As a former Ottawa resident I have multiple Facebook friends there. Todd and Jennifer marked themselves safe; but what about Joe? Stefan? Stephane? What happened to them?.
Yeah, they’re fine, thanks, because that region has a population of 1.3 million, and while it is a shame that six of them were hospitalized as a result of that tornado (which hit Canada frequently) when you do the math you quickly realize that that is equal to one out of every 216,000 people. If a single person were hospitalized as a result of an incident in a single town of 216,000, would Facebook call on every resident of that town to mark themselves safe?
Our brains are well known to weigh our fears based in part on how vivid they are rather than how likely they are.
So we worry more about vivid events than actually fearsome ones. Would Facebook call on New Yorkers to mark themselves safe if a terrorist attack killed 15 people in a busy subway station? Of course they would. It’s not even a question, or is it. There are of course some crises so awful, so huge, so widespread, that this no longer applies; where the risk to any individual is in fact much higher than, say, the annual risk of dying in a car crash. If Facebook reduced its calls to mark yourself safe to such actual crises, then none of the above would apply. Let’s hope that one day they ratchet down their anxiety-inducing algorithms and do just that.