Facebook didn't know what “The Violent Incident in Manhattan, New York” was, but it was already encouraging fundraisers on it.
At least eight people died on Tuesday afternoon when a truck slammed into a bike path in downtown Manhattan in what New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio described as an “act of terror.” Approximately an hour after the attack began, when most details were unclear or contradictory, Facebook rolled out its Safety Check feature: a page that prompted users to “check in” as safe. The page also advertised a tab where users could “Raise Money for The Violent Incident in Manhattan, New York.”
The fundraiser feature is now automatic on Facebook’s crisis response pages, which the social media giant produces for events that generate a sufficient amount of conversation online, a Facebook representative told The Daily Beast. Sometimes, like in the case of California fires, that feature means getting money to people in need. Other times, like hours after a shooting in Manhattan, that means encouraging donations for a confused, still-developing incident.
Facebook’s fundraiser tab for what is still described as “The Violent Incident in Manhattan, New York” has no fundraisers attached to it—and it likely won’t attract any, the spokesperson said. When the alleged attacker, 29-year-old Sayfullo Saipov, drove a rented Home Depot truck into a downtown bike lane, he struck at least a dozen people, eight of whom are dead.
Some of Facebook’s most successful fundraising campaigns often originate from natural disasters, like the Tubbs Fire in California’s Sonoma County in early October, where more people lose their lives or property. Facebook’s Tubbs Fire crisis response page features three user-generated fundraisers, which have raised nearly $9,000 combined.
Facebook said it reviewed crisis fundraisers and removed them from the page if they were inappropriate or unrelated to the incident.
“The Violent Incident in Manhattan” had fewer victims than the deadly fires, and therefore is less likely to be the subject of a Facebook fundraiser. As of Tuesday evening, clicking on the page’s “raise money” button did not show any fundraisers related to the attack, but redirected users through Facebook’s standard process for establishing a fundraiser for a friend or a nonprofit organization.
Fundraising sites are good for user engagement—something Facebook is keen to improve amid a slowdown in activity from users. In a bid to boost user engagement, Facebook has recently rolled out a suite of new features and notifications. And in the hours after Tuesday’s attack, Facebook users in the New York area began receiving notifications from the platform’s Safety Check feature.
Less than two hours after the attack, I received a Facebook notification prompting me to mark myself safe. A college classmate with whom I have never interacted in any capacity “wants to know if you’re okay during The Violent Incident in Manhattan, New York,” the notification on my phone read. More notifications followed: automated alerts about safety check-ins from acquaintances in the tri-state area. An old roommate who now lives in New Jersey was safe. A high school classmate I didn’t know lived in the city was safe.
Each notification of non-tragedy was a reference to a tragedy that could have happened, and each suggestion of averted tragedy was a prompt to log into Facebook and engage. Maybe even give money.