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What we really think about the Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp outage

By Sanuj Bhatia October 5, 2021, 1:00 pm
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Unless you’re living under a rock, you know Facebook and all of its services, including WhatsApp and Instagram, were down for over 6 hours yesterday. The outage, which started around 11:40 AM EDT, lasted till around 7:30 PM. During these seven hours, a part of the internet (and by a part, I mean a big chunk of it) went dark. Businesses were affected, people were not able to communicate, and the day as a whole quite turned out to be a dark day for the internet.

Facebook, soon after the outage was resolved, explained the outage by saying it wasn’t a result of a hack or a data leak. The company said it was a faulty “configuration change” that started a chain reaction affecting how the data centers communicate, bringing services to a grinding halt.

But the downtime, as big as 7 hours, made us, and I’m sure quite a few of you, realize how Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram affect our lives. How important these tools have become. In this piece, our team here at pocketnow has penned down their thoughts about what they think about the Facebook outage and the incidents that took place during it.

Jaime Rivera, CCO

It’s funny, but what I’ve realized is that I’m honestly disturbed by all this, and I expressed some of it on Twitter yesterday:

On a basic level, I’m just disturbed by how social media companies are allowed to be the new nicotine. It’s been documented over and over, and I think VOX does a fantastic job at explaining how it works:

And yet, no one does anything. As productivity falls and depression becomes more of the norm in our society, we barely see any sort of government intervention into addressing how social networks are as lethal as the cigarettes that were recently banned from restaurants. We do know the government is trying to regulate their size and monopolistic practices, but no one is addressing their long-term effects on society, which is my biggest concern.

See, I lost complete respect for Facebook since the Cambridge Analytica scandal back in the 2016 US Election. To see how the power of a social network be used by the wrong hands in order to exert so much power over the public opinion of the most powerful nation on the planet is frankly horrifying. And yet, if you noticed, it’s been five years, and it didn’t stop. We then saw how this lethal weapon was used in other elections, and so on, and so forth.

To see my friends complain over how their day yesterday was a mess because Facebook outage only reminded me of how hard it was for me to quit smoking 10 years ago. Indeed social media was a powerful tool for us to remain connected during the pandemic, but you should ask yourself why those tools didn’t make you as happier. It only reminds me more of what I wrote recently.

Anton D. Nagy, EIC

As far as I am personally concerned, I got off the social media platform before the Cambridge Analytica scandal. There were some early signs that I’ve read into, which led me to limit my online presence to the absolute minimum, so I’m not on Facebook. I was never on Instagram (believe me, we had several discussions with my colleagues about it), but I never saw the benefit of being on a platform that back then only allowed you to upload low-resolution, square pictures. By the time it became big, it was too late to enter, but I lost my appetite anyway.

I was, however, a big WhatsApp user. I adopted it as early as I could, and I also was among the first ones of my piers to leave the platform back before the May change of terms and conditions I did not internally agree with. I am now on Signal (personal) and Telegram (business), and that’s most of my online presence, save for my Page on Facebook.

While it’s scary that we, as a society, became desperate enough to depend on these services and networks (and my colleague Jaime will elaborate on that), for me, personally, it’s more of a question about decentralization, or the lack of it.

If we are to believe what Facebook said (and we have every reason not to), it’s because a chain of events led to nodes and servers falling like dominoes.

My question is this: what if Bank of America goes offline? What if any other essential service that is centralized goes offline? We need to start looking at decentralized ways of governing our society. Could that be blockchains? I don’t know, but it’s one alternative proposed globally. What I do know is that this is a pure example of a society in need of (or addicted to) a product or service, which can cause disruptions if it’s no longer there.

I don’t want to go into psychological or behavioral details. I also want to keep this short, but we’ve got an issue, and, with another red flag in our face, we need to seriously start thinking about ourselves, our society, and our future, as we can’t depend, as a society, on a server, individual, or group. It’s unhealthy. It’s self-destructing.

Adam Z. Lein, Senior Editor

Facebook’s motto, “Move fast and break things,” really hit hard on Monday during the outage. How many people who depend on Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, Oculus, etc., for their livelihood, lost 6 hours with that downtime? This just goes to show that you really can’t depend on monopolistic and centralized businesses that have no alternatives.

A diverse open, and transparent technology ecosystem is so much better. For example, Email hasn’t had a global shut-down like that in its many decades of existence, neither has the open worldwide web. It’s foolish to depend on centralized services like all of the ones Facebook owns, and this re-enforces the need for diverse, decentralized, and open communications systems that interoperate with each other without the “grabby” greediness of accumulating and abusing users.

Samuel Martinez, News Editor

It’s kind of weird going into Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp right now. Almost every one of my contacts is either joking about yesterday’s outage or making a drama about all the time they had to survive without Facebook services. And don’t get me wrong, I was also affected by this issue, and I also felt a bit frustrated. Still, the only reason why I found out about the problem is that I was messaging with my wife and other people when WhatsApp decided to split.

Yesterday’s problem also made me realize that I’m not another slave of the system. I don’t need to be getting likes or any other kind of reactions on my posts to feel alive. I just share enough dumb stuff to make myself or my friends laugh occasionally. However, it also got me thinking that this outage wasn’t an accident at all. It was the perfect moment to fix a couple of loose ends, especially after the latest Facebook Whistleblower scandal, but that may just be me overthinking.

We also must understand that social media will never be perfect. You will find all kinds of people with different opinions and interests. Most of them may be harmless users who just want to check out on their family and friends, while others may have other intentions. Whatever the case, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms are not the best place for kids or early teens. So as a father, I would recommend you pay more attention and try to keep your kids away from these platforms as long as you can since they have become the world’s new drug.

Sanuj Bhatia, News Editor

It all started with my dad, who was right sitting next to me, asking if our internet was working or not. Then, just a few seconds later, I hear my mom shouting from the other room, saying “the internet in our house never works. Please fix it. I’m not able to send a message on WhatsApp.” Me, as I’m the go-to technical guy in my house, started figuring out what was happening, as everything else was working fine. I restarted the router, restarted our devices, but the thing just won’t work. I even reverted back to Google DNS on my main router as my primary DNS provider — NextDNS — does experience outage quite a few times a month. A few minutes later, I get a text from a friend — who’s in the same field as I am — sharing a Twitter link. It said, “Is it only for me, or WhatsApp is down for everybody?” That’s the moment I knew something significant had happened.

Sadly (and unfortunately?), it’s quite common for Facebook and its services to go offline. Instagram went down for around two hours here in India just a few weeks ago. Few minutes into the outage, I started getting calls from my friends and relatives — “Bro, why isn’t WhatsApp working?”, “Do you know when Instagram will be up again? I can’t seem to find the picture I’m looking for”, “Please tell me how to sign up on Telegram. WhatsApp isn’t working right now.” A few hours in — the time is late in India, around 11:00 PM — everybody just gushes into their rooms saying, “Okay, I’ll check my messages tomorrow. Let’s sleep on time for once.”

Later in the night, I realized what had just happened. WhatsApp, one of the most used tools for communication in India, had been down for hours. Facebook and Instagram, one of the most used platforms around the world, had been dark for hours. “How many businesses would have been affected? How many people were not able to contact each other? What if this happens with Google and its services?” And then it hit me: Gosh! We depend too much on Facebook.

What not started as a monopoly, became one. Instagram and WhatsApp, started as independent platforms, were taken over by Facebook. Since then, a big part of our lives depends on Facebook. Something as small as a failed BGP update to a data center in California ended up affecting millions and maybe billions of lives everywhere else.

It’s time we have a decentralized system in place. It’s high time.

Aryan Surendranath, SEO Editor

All right. So I’m 21, and while Facebook is not that big a part of my life — I  got on to the platform to play FarmVille (hey Zynga, I miss you) — and only log into my account to save game progress for some mobile titles, so I don’t have much to say for it. But WhatsApp and Instagram are different stories.

In India, WhatsApp is like a de facto for communications. While the privacy debacle should have seen many leave the platform, the chances of it ever happening were slim. So, be it reaching out to friends and family or getting a notification from college, most of it still happens on the Facebook-owned service.

Fortunately (or unfortunately for some), WhatsApp went offline at 9:13 PM IST (8:43 AM PT), meaning it was the end of the day, and I didn’t have many messages to read or possibly receive. Also, I believe older Indians were probably soaking up daily soaps or were getting ready for bed? But it just so happened that I was in the middle of getting a college official’s email on WhatsApp, and a second later, my messages wouldn’t send, so I was first-hand inconvenienced by the outage, but it didn’t break my life.

For Instagram, I believe it has more of an effect on people my age as they probably end up here after studying or work to catch up with friends. But I feel the sheer options that my generation has to connect renders most of these outages irrelevant. Being the ambivert that I am, last night, I found myself watching “The Way of the Househusband” on Netflix and going to bed at 10:30 PM — my Watch will vouch for me. But I doubt any of the others did this, as they were possibly only a quick phone call from being on a Teleparty watching Squid Game.

So while most of the people from my friend circle and possibly age group were or might have been a little annoyed, I feel the outage isn’t that big of a blockade in this world of options.

 

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