By Angelie Roche
Around 11:30 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 4 and 3 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 8, Facebook and all of its connected apps– including Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger– became inaccessible to users across the United States and the world. Monday’s outage lasted for five hours and Friday’s for nearly two, causing widespread panic as people who relied on the apps for communication or otherwise depended on that omnipresent ability to scroll through posts suddenly found themselves unable to do so. According to The New York Times, there are nearly 3.5 billion people who use Facebook’s platforms worldwide, and in some places, the internet cannot be accessed without some involvement of Facebook’s services. Many others use the “sign in with Facebook” option when accessing other websites or apps, and were barred from doing so during the outages.
On Monday afternoon, Facebook sent out an update apologizing for the five-hour blackout and explaining what caused it. According to their engineering team, “configuration changes on the backbone routers that coordinate network traffic between our data centers,” which caused a disruption so massive it “cascaded” down to every service the company provides. They added that there was no malicious activity or hacking behind the blackout, as that has been a problem with some services in the past and a concern among users; rather, it was simply an error in programming.
Though Facebook said they were working to fix these issues, the second outage on Friday suggested that there could be even more in the future. Both outages occurred just after the social media giant was exposed for prioritizing profit above restricting hate speech on Oct. 3. The whistleblower, former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen, said that the company was aware of the harm Instagram caused to teens’ mental health and the misinformation about vaccines that was being spread on Facebook, but did little to mitigate either.
Facebook’s many problems– some of which have been occurring for years now and are only worsening– are raising questions about social media, big tech companies and mental health for people worldwide. Officials in Moscow, Russia used the blackouts as an example of global technology’s failures, stating that its nationalized social media was superior. In Belgium, EU antitrust chief Vestager said that the blackouts showed the danger of tech monopolies and the need for more competition in Silicon Valley, stating that we “must not rely on a few big players” to control much of our internet usage.
Still, others cited the short-term positive effects of the outage. In an interview with CNN, therapist Ian Kerner said that the 5-hour gap made some of his patients realize how reliant they had been on social media. Scrolling through your feed is a quick and easy way to gain serotonin, but it is not a healthy coping mechanism; for some, the outages on Sunday were reminders to take a break, go outdoors and turn off their phones for a while. Still, the wider implications of Facebook’s recent crashes left us all with more questions than answers.