If you live in a region where terrorist attacks happen with some regularity, you are probably familiar with Facebook's Safety Check, or Marked Safe, feature. This works as follows: When a terrorist attack happens (or another disaster, but this post is purely about terrorist attacks), Facebook determines which of its users were nearby when it happened. Facebook does so based on three sources: your phone or tablet's location, your home city, and the location of your last connection to Facebook (i.e. they check the location of your last IP address). It then asks those nearby users to confirm that they are safe, which is posted on Facebook, thus re-assuring friends and family.
Surely there is nothing wrong with letting friends and family know that you are safe! So why is this—in the format of a Facebook-wide safety check—a bad idea?
First, more than anything else, systematically marking people as safe in this way accentuates the possibility that they may not have been safe, that they were in serious mortal danger and barely survived. It increases the subjective probability that loved ones may get hurt in terrorist attacks. And it increases the feeling that we are all in danger all of the time.
People who are affected by terrorist attacks deserve unconditional sympathy and support. But empathy doesn't have to, and shouldn't, turn into unreasonable fear.
Because fear is exactly what organizations like Islamic State (IS) want to accomplish: They want to look far ...