The whole world came to a standstill when Facebook and other apps owned by the tech giant stopped working. This made us ask some important questions.
On Monday, a global service outage hit Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. The services went down at around 16:00 GMT, with users starting to gain access to the sites at around 22:00. Some people also reported problems using Oculus, which is Facebook’s virtual reality headset platform, and apps which need Facebook’s logins were affected, including Pokémon Go. Apart from Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, Facebook’s own internal systems were also affected, while the reports staff were locked out of offices, and could not access their own internal communications platform.
Downdetector, a site that monitors reports of outages across the internet, said that the Facebook outage was the largest outage that they have ever seen, with over 10.6 million problem reports from all over the world. This is the worst outage for Facebook since a 2019 incident took its site offline for over 24 hours.
Facebook said that the faulty configuration change affected the company’s internal tools and systems, which complicated attempts to resolve the problem. The social media giant also said that there was no evidence that user data was compromised because of this downtime. Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, apologised to those affected by the outage.
Not A Good Time
We don’t know how your week is going, but Zuckerberg is not having a good week. On Sunday, Frances Haugen, who is a former Facebook civic integrity product manager went public with explosive allegations that Facebook had prioritised growth and profit over public safety. On Monday, the global outage happened.All of this has affected Zuckerberg on a massive scale, with the company’s stock declined 4.9% on Monday, adding to a slump of around 15% since mid-September.
The decline in stock led to Zuckerberg’s personal wealth plunging over $6 billion in a few hours, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. His worth is down from almost $140 billion to $121.6 billion in a matter of weeks, based on the index. At the time of writing this article, Zuckerberg was at the 5th position in the world’s richest people list.
It is obvious that when Facebook and Facebook-owned apps go down, they have an impact on the company’s stock and Zuckerberg’s wealth. However, the businesses of millions of people were also affected since they are also dependent on these social media platforms. Mark Donnelly, a start-up founder in Ireland who runs HUH Clothing told The New York Times that they were losing thousands in sales due to the outage. Donnelly added, “It may not sound like a lot to others but missing out on four or five hours of sales could be the difference between paying the electricity bill or rent for the month.”
Samir Munir, who owns a food-delivery service in Delhi told The New York Times that he was unable to reach clients or fulfil orders because he runs the business via his Facebook page and takes orders through WhatsApp. Douglas Veney, a gamer in Cleveland who is paid by viewers and subscribers on Facebook Gaming, told the publication, “It’s hard when your primary platform for income for a lot of people goes down.” Veney even called the situation “scary.”
When Facebook goes down, it feels like the entire internet is down. However, there are billions of users using these social media platforms, and Facebook is also a huge company. Then, why did it take them nearly six hours to fix this issue? Shouldn’t they have expected these kinds of disturbances and taken proper precautions in case something like this happens? Because Facebook’s own internal systems are run from the same place, so it was hard for employees to diagnose and resolve the problem.
Alex Hern, the Guardian’s UK technology editor tweeted saying, “Facebook runs EVERYTHING through Facebook”, so the usual way you would fix a problem like this was also not working. Since Facebook and Facebook-owned apps are a primary communication tool in several countries, these kinds of outages show how if one app goes down, everything that is owned by Facebook also gets affected, thus impacting the lives of so many people.
Many are saying this is the result of letting one company become so big to the point of becoming a monopoly in the industry. New York Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) tweeted saying, “If Facebook’s monopolistic behavior was checked back when it should’ve been (perhaps around the time it started acquiring competitors like Instagram), the continents of people who depend on WhatsApp & IG for either communication or commerce would be fine right now.” She continued, “Break them up.”
Maybe, Let’s Break Up?!
We all know about the allegations that Facebook acquired Instagram and WhatsApp because Zuckerberg said that they could ‘hurt’ Facebook. In an email in April 2012, Zuckerberg wrote, as mentioned by The Verge, “Instagram can hurt us meaningfully without becoming a huge business.” Anti competitive regulators such as the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have been pursuing antitrust action against Facebook, saying that Facebook has become a monopoly by acquiring its potential competitors.
Since billions of people use Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, Facebook has access to the data of all these people, and that is concerning, because Zuckerberg has a history of being the most clueless person in the room during congressional hearings. Also, the recent report by The Wall Street Journal showed how Zuckerberg knew about Instagram was toxic to teens but still refused to believe the facts or take any action against it.
Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at New York University’s Stern School of Business said that he has twice spoken with Zuckerberg about Facebook’s effects on teen mental health, writes WSJ. Haidt told WSJ that Mr. Zuckerberg indicated that on the issues of political polarization and teen mental health, he believed that the research literature was contradictory and didn’t point clearly to any harmful causal effects. Haidt also said, “I asked Mark to help us out as parents.” And Zuckerberg’s reply was that he was working on it.
Despite the company’s internal findings and expert suggestions, Zuckerberg still downplayed the crisis in public. When asked about children and mental health at a congressional hearing in March 2021, Zuckerberg said, as mentioned by WSJ, “The research that we’ve seen is that using social apps to connect with other people can have positive mental-health benefits.” This shows that Zuckerberg continued to believe that Facebook and Instagram were doing good for teens when the internal research showed otherwise. So, will it be best for everyone if we break up all the three social media companies and appoint separate independent committee to overlook the actions of each of those companies, instead of just Zuckerberg calling the shots?
Breaking up the companies might sound like a much-needed move, but the whistleblower doesn’t think so. Haugen did not share the documents with the FTC. She told, as mentioned by VICE India, that “It’s not about breaking up Facebook.” The founder of Whistleblower Aid, John Tye, told the New York Times, as mentioned by VICE India, that Haugen “generally does not see antitrust as the most important policy approach.” Tye added, instead she “wants to see meaningful regulatory reform focused on transparency and accountability.”
But that doesn’t mean that we should wait until Facebook realises its mistakes. We have proof that Facebook is harming the society. AOC tweeted saying, “It’s almost as if Facebook’s monopolistic mission to either own, copy, or destroy any competing platform has incredibly destructive effects on free society and democracy.” The world is connected, and several good things have come out of social media platforms. They are also playing an important role in the society and staying connected has become a tool for survival these days. Since we are all social animals, social media helps us stay sane during difficult times, as we know that the company of a loved one or a funny cat video is just a click away.
However, we also feel that this means that these platforms carry a lot of responsibility to keep harmful content at bay. The algorithms have to be designed in a way that they can weed out hateful, and toxic content quickly. The responsibility of fact checking the content posted on these platforms, filtering the toxic stuff from the good stuff, and implementing measures to not become addicted shouldn’t fall on the users. It is time that regulators and government institutions take strict measures against these platforms.
If post offices caused teenagers mental illnesses and led to the spread of misinformation in the early 1980s, we can be sure that the governments would have closed them. So, why are they allowing these platforms to cause so much harm and yet let them function with less oversight? It is time we ask Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg some tough questions, and it is time we stop turning a blind eye to their role in the society, and how they can harm everything that we have built if we don’t place boundaries for them.