A massive global outage plunged part of the world into chaos on Monday—the social media world, that is. Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp experienced hours-long disruptions. The platforms are back online now. But the situation caused folks everywhere to realize how much they rely on such services.
The outage began around 11:40 a.m. Eastern Time on Monday. More than six hours later, it still wasn’t fixed. Websites and apps often suffer outages of varying size and duration, but lengthy global disruptions are rare. Late in the day, some users reported a partial return of one service or another. But the apps remained glitchy for some time.
For hours, Facebook’s only public comment was delivered through rival social media platform Twitter. Facebook issued a tweet in which it acknowledged that “some people are having trouble accessing [the] Facebook app.”
“This is epic,” says Doug Madory, director of a network monitoring and intelligence company. The last major internet outage, which knocked many of the world’s top websites offline in June, lasted less than an hour.
Mike Schroepfer, Facebook’s current chief technology officer, tweeted “sincere apologies” to everyone impacted by the outage. He blamed “networking issues” and said teams were “working as fast as possible to debug and restore” access and service.
Facebook officials say, “The root cause of this outage was a faulty configuration change” and that there is “no evidence that user data was compromised.” The company is still working to understand more about the cause.
Facebook was already in the middle of a separate major crisis. Former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen appeared on CBS’s 60 Minutes program on Sunday. She exposed the company’s awareness of harms caused by its products.
Haugen filed complaints with federal law enforcement. She says Facebook’s own research proves the company increases misinformation. It also showed that the company knew that Instagram can harm teenage girls’ mental health.
For nearly three billion users, the event shows just how much the world relies on Facebook and its other platforms to run businesses, connect with online communities, communicate with friends and family, and even order food.
Kendall Ross owns a knitwear brand in Oklahoma City. He has 32,000 followers on Instagram. Almost all of his website traffic comes directly from IG. He posted a product photo about an hour before Instagram went down. He tends to sell about two hand-knit pieces for about $300-$400 after posting a product photo. But for hours, he sold nothing.
“The outage today is frustrating financially,” Ross says. “It’s also a huge awakening that social media controls so much of my success in business.”
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For some people, losing access for so long can make them vulnerable to criminals taking advantage of the outage, says Rachel Tobac, CEO of SocialProof Security.
“They’re more susceptible . . . because they’re so desperate to communicate,” Tobac says. During previous outages, some people have received emails promising to restore their social media accounts by clicking on a link that exposes their personal data.
As jokes about the Facebook outage flooded the internet, Twitter users chimed in. One meme suggested that the facebook.com address was for sale. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey quickly tweeted, “How much?”
(The logo for Facebook appears on screens at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York’s Times Square. AP/Richard Drew)