Facebook bug adds festive balloons to Indonesia earthquake posts

Members of an Indonesian search and rescue team look for victims of the recent earthquake in Tanjung on Lombok island

Facebook says it “regrets” an algorithm blunder that caused balloons and confetti to appear in posts about the deadly earthquake in Indonesia.

Following the killer quake on the island of Lombok on Sunday – which has so far claimed at least 142 lives and injured more than 200 – users took to the social network to share their messages of condolence and support.

But they were shocked to find certain comments were causing Facebook’s celebratory animations to flood their screens, including balloons and confetti.

It seems the blunder was impacting posts that contained the word “selamat” – which can mean safe or unhurt but can also mean congratulations depending on the context.

The word was misinterpreted by Facebook’s algorithms to mean the latter, causing it to initiate the festive animations whenever it was shared.

“This feature (a text animation triggered by typing ‘congrats’) is widely available on Facebook globally, however we regret that it appeared in this unfortunate context and have since turned off the feature locally,” Lisa Stratton, a Facebook spokesperson, told Motherboard in an email. “Our hearts go out to the people affected by the earthquake.”

“Congrats” in Indonesian is “selamat”. Selamat also means “to survive.”

After the 6.9 magnitude earthquake in Lombok, Facebook users wrote “I hope people will survive”. Then Facebook highlighted the word “selamat” and throw some balloons and confetti. pic.twitter.com/DEhYLqHWUz

— Herman Saksono (@hermansaksono) August 6, 2018

Herman Saksono, an Indonesian computer science PhD student, spotted the blunder over the weekend.

“‘Congrats’ in Indonesian is ‘selamat.’ Selamat also means ‘to survive.’ After the 6.9 magnitude earthquake in Lombok, Facebook users wrote: ‘I hope people will survive.’ Then Facebook highlighted the word ‘selamat’ and throw some balloons and confetti,” he tweeted.

More than 10,000 people were evacuated in the aftermath of the quake, including 4,600 foreign and domestic tourists from the three Gili islands off Lombok.

The 7.0 magnitude quake struck at 7:45 p.m. local time on Sunday, August 5.

Rescuers found victims under flattened buildings, with one woman pulled alive from the rubble of a collapsed mosque, which fell as people were praying.

Oxfam said it was providing clean drinking water and tarpaulin shelters to 5,000 survivors, but more than 20,000 estimated have been displaced.

A tsunami warning was issued in the aftermath covering the surrounding regions but has now been lifted.

It comes just a week after Lombok was rocked by an earlier earthquake that killed 17 people.

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said the death toll was expected to rise after reports of thousands of buildings collapsing, especially in the north, the quake’s epicenter.

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