For over six hours on October 4, some of the world’s most widely used apps, Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp, were all completely down in one of the biggest shortages to date. Facebook, which owns all three apps, apologized for the situation in a Twitter statement saying, “To the huge community of people and businesses around the world who depend on us: we’re sorry. We’ve been working hard to restore access to our apps and services and are happy to report they are coming back online now. Thank you for bearing with us.” Just four days later, another outage also occurred for approximately two hours. Facebook said the problem was due to a faulty configuration change that impacted the company’s ability to solve the problem internally, causing more issues.
The impacts of the outage reached far beyond just being unable to access a friend’s photos. Approximately 3.5 billion people use one or more of Facebook’s apps, according to the New York Times. According to Business of Apps, 69% of Americans have used Facebook at least once. In some countries, the Facebook app WhatsApp has been the most popular way to communicate, especially if other messaging services are unavailable. In some developing countries, WhatsApp is the primary form of communication as power outages make other methods of communication unreliable. As a result, WhatsApp has gone beyond just being another way to interact with friends and family and has become a crucial source of information and services. In Lebanon, for example, WhatsApp has provided a means to order COVID-19 tests and receive results, according to the Washington Post.
Many businesses, particularly small businesses, that rely on social media were stuck for hours trying to access customers through the apps. According to Business of Apps, brands post on average 2.37 times a day, and Facebook has around 25% of all online advertising, making Monday’s outage a serious setback for some businesses. The outage was especially impactful because, in the U.S., the outage lasted during the majority of the Monday workday.
The economic ramifications on Facebook itself have also been intense, since the outage is estimated to have cost the company upwards of $60 million dollars, not including lost stock value, according to Marketwatch. CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s personal wealth has lost an estimated $6 billion due to lost stock value.
Beyond the outage, Facebook’s dysfunction has been just as far-reaching. On October 5, a whistleblower, former Facebook employee Frances Haugen, testified before Congress about her experiences within the company. Her testimony was well-received by members of Congress from both parties and may lead to further investigations of Facebook and regulations for the company and other social media websites. During her testimony, Haugen added, “These problems are solvable. A safer, free speech-respecting, more enjoyable social media is possible. Facebook can change, but is clearly not going to do so on its own. … Congress can change the rules that Facebook plays by and stop the many harms it is causing.” As a former specialist on Facebook and Instagram algorithms, Haugen’s testimony focused on how even within Facebook, the company has ignored or not adequately responded to possible mental health concerns of young people, widespread misinformation and criticisms of the platform’s prioritization of profits.
Some of Haugen’s criticisms included calls for Facebook to be safer for children and teenagers. Haugen expressed concerns for mental health in children and teens, including social media becoming addictive and fostering insecurities in young people. Zuckerberg refuted these claims in an extensive response to Haugen’s testimony, saying, “At the most basic level, I think most of us just don’t recognize the false picture of the company that is being painted.”
For Hope students, the pressures of life in a world so well-connected by social media are not new. Freshman Zoe Neilson said, “I agree that social media is not good for kids and teens, because, like, I didn’t even realize it was down until someone said something in the GroupMe, and I think not being able to use it for a day helped me focus on my work more. I have noticed I have used it less since coming to college.”
In terms of balancing the negatives with the positive aspects of social media, Neilson added, “I’d say it is more overwhelming than helpful, but I do like having it because it is helpful to connect with new people and stay in touch with my friends.”