All You Need to Know About the Facebook Outage
October 11, 2021
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by Stephen Kanyi

Last week there were two, hours-long outage of Facebook and sibling websites Instagram and Whatsapp for thousands of users all across the globe.

The first, that occurred on Monday was the most significant. Going out at just before noon ET, Facebook and related websites were offline for about six hours before the issue was resolved.

During the outage, Instagram.com showed a 5xx Server Error Message while Facebook website simply said that something was wrong. For WhatsApp no messages went in or out. The outage also affected Facebook’s virtual reality arm Oculus where users could only play games that were already installed but could not play new games or access social features.

The second outage occurred on Friday, this time for only two hours and with far fewer users affected.

What was the Cause?

According to a blogpost by Facebook’s infrastructure vice president Santosh Janardhan, the problem arose during maintenance where a command inadvertently caused a shutdown of the backbone that connects all Facebook’s data centres across the world.

This was the source of yesterday’s outage. During one of these routine maintenance jobs, a command was issued with the intention to assess the availability of global backbone capacity, which unintentionally took down all the connections in our backbone network, effectively disconnecting Facebook data centres globally.”

Now if that explanation sounds a little too technical for you don’t worry, it actually is. Truth is, breaking down the problem into a simple explainer for the common public is a task too difficult, even for Facebook’s top executives.

What you can take home from this post, however, is that (a very unfortunate) someone made a mistake that disconnected all Facebooks data centres globally. That means that for six painstaking hours on Monday, Facebook and its other sister sites were effectively ‘offline.’

Some have been quick to link the outage to the ongoing case against Facebook in the US Senate. There is however nothing linking the two together. As is the case in most human born disasters, the cause is often incompetence rather than malicious intent.

This does not however excuse Facebook from the outage. The problem originated from within the company itself and could have been avoided. Moreover, this is not the first time Facebook has faced such issues. In 2019 there was a similar outage lasting a whole 24 hours. One should think that Facebook would have settled these issues by now especially in light of the criticism they are currently facing in court.

The good news is that Facebook recovered and is up and running.

The Fallout

Facebook is big. With over 2.6 billion users across its platforms, an outage like this affects more than just the company itself.

This does not mean that Facebook did not hurt. For the company, it was a disaster. It cost the social network giant a reported $100 million dollars in lost revenue. This also impacted the company’s stock price which fell by 4.9 per cent translating to a whopping $47.3 billion lost market cap.

Even founder Mark Zuckerberg felt some pain, he lost billions in personal net worth and with it a few spots on the world’s wealthiest ranking. But who cares?

What’s important was how the outage affected users, and here I talk about creators. People who depend on Facebooks websites i.e. WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook to make a living.

Such an outage might mean a revenue loss from sponsors when scheduled content is not posted at the stipulated time. It may also lead to a loss of followers crucial for a successful ad campaign.

However, according to a post on Forbes, outages that are only hours long are not really harmful. Most sponsors are willing to reschedule content to the next day while most followers do not make decisions that quickly. However, if this outage was longer, say a few days, then the fallout would have been significant.

For now, let’s rejoice in the fact that we have our favourite platforms up and running. The outage does however raise some questions as to how important social network platforms are to our daily lives. Also, the outage revealed the dominance of Facebook’s websites in the market.

How is it that the connection between billions of people across the world is controlled by a few individuals in Silicon Valley? Maybe it’s time to diversify your apps and discover new ones.

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