Facebook was involved in a howler of an outage on Monday that left the social media platform as well as Instagram, WhatsApp and FB Messenger out of action for nearly six hours and has left the world asking if the near trillion dollar tech giant needs to be broken up.
Thousands of businesses and millions of individuals were unable to trade, market or communicate with their clients, family and customers in the world’s most populated marketplace.
Facebook boasts nearly three billion users, that’s almost half the planet, yet it was rendered utterly useless on Monday when a tech issue shut the entire operation down.
Impact of the Facebook outage
Tim Lawrence, Head of Strategy at global digital agency iCrossing, highlighted the reaction of global brands and agencies: “Brands and agencies were probably as surprised and shocked as most around the world at the outage, certainly at the length and scale of it.
“Whilst unfortunate being at the start of Q4, all brands were impacted equally so it’s embarrassing for Facebook more than anything else, particularly with Mark Zuckerberg talking about Facebook’s future as ‘bringing the metaverse to life’.”
The issue was so grave that even Facebook couldn’t get into its own network.
The company wrote in a prepared statement: “Our engineering teams have learned that configuration changes on the backbone routers that coordinate network traffic between our data centers caused issues that interrupted this communication.
“This disruption to network traffic had a cascading effect on the way our data centers communicate, bringing our services to a halt.”
Eventually, Facebook Founder, Mark Zuckerberg posted a brief message to his Facebook page.
It read: “Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger are coming back online now. Sorry for the disruption today — I know how much you rely on our services to stay connected with the people you care about.”
Risks of using Facebook
Lawrence warned of the dangers of brands putting all their eggs into a social media basket owned by one entity: “The outage highlights the danger of relying so heavily on one provider – be it Facebook, Google, Amazon or another to power your digital marketing strategy.
“It can be tempting for brands to ‘double-down’ on one platform to excel, however handing over too much influence on your business to a third party is never a strong strategic move, particularly one with differing business goals to your own, and brands need to consider the right balance for their media mix, let alone social media.
Moreover, the outage is unlikely to be the end of Facebook’s woes, as Lawrence explained: “The outage happened the day as a former employee turned whistle-blower gave an interview to the 60 Minutes programme in the US making damning accusations claiming Facebook’s priority was making money over doing what was good for the public.
“More negative headlines will put further pressure on Facebook and only intensify conversation in the US to break the group up as it wields too much power and influence.
“Yesterday’s outage is unlikely to be the tipping point for that but another piece of evidence on the impact one private company has on the global economy and communications.”
The outage indeed came on the same day the CNN’s 60 Minutes aired an interview with Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen.
Haugen, a data scientist has alleged that Facebook has been misleading investors about how it has been dealing with hate speech and misinformation on its platform.
However, the 60 Minutes interview was completely overshadowed by the global outage, which may cause some to probe even deeper into the whole debacle.
Social media addiction
Lawrence noted that the sheer draw and power of Facebook and the other platforms it owns can make them difficult to boycott: “For brands and its users the Facebook group can be hard to give up, it holds established social connections, familiarity, and in the case of brands audiences and scale.
“Whilst both groups have boycotted the platform in the past over perceived discrepancies, they always return.
He added: “Trust in Facebook dropped 66% following the Cambridge Analytica scandal (Source: Ponemon Institute) and 50% of Americans said they didn’t trust Facebook to safeguard their personal data (Piplsay), yet Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp – now all the same company, continue to be the backbone of our social networking.
“Maybe a few hours of enforced time out might mean that users re-found other platforms or simply had a real conversation with a friend of family member, famed whistle-blower Edward Snowden had this perspective: ‘Facebook and Instagram go mysteriously offline and, for one shining day, the world becomes a healthier place’.”
Agency dumps WhatsApp
While many will doubtless now be reassessing their reliance on Facebook and its many social media subsidiaries, some, like UK digital marketing consultancy LEAD, already took swift action to safeguard their client communications as the outage unfolded.
“I have several key client communication threads on WhatsApp, not backed up anywhere and at the mercy of Facebook’s DNS servers!” Said Jack Shearring, Managing Director of LEAD.
“The outage yesterday has made us move our comms back to either email, Monday.com or Slack to ensure we’ve got a backup of our messages just in case we need them.
“While WhatsApp is the easy option, we found ourselves sliding into using it because it’s fast.
“It has its positives as our clients are more likely to respond quickly, but the downsides of not having vital information to hand and backed up is not worth the risk.”
LEAD counts leading global brands such as Sony and HSBC among its clients.
Sam O’Brien, Chief Marketing Officer at performance marketing platform Affise said the outage caused global panic: “Yesterday’s outage of such prolific platforms caused a global panic amongst not only the users who felt lost without access to their profiles and ability to communicate with those closest to them, it also would have had a severe impact on planned social activity for millions of global businesses.
“More than 4 million businesses currently use Instagram Stories per month, and this number is rapidly increasing.
“Using a platform like Instagram Stories ads to target and engage with potential new customers gives brands and companies of all sizes the opportunity to showcase a full-screen experience and highlight their offering to users of the app.
O’Brien highlighted the fact that a staggering 92% of global social media marketing happens on Facebook.
“When you see figures like this,” O’Brien said, “the reality of how integral social platforms are really hits home, especially among those who may still think of sites like Instagram and Facebook as nothing more than an app to wish friends happy birthday and post pictures of your recent holiday or new puppy.
“There are no doubt many marketers breathing a sigh of relief this morning that the pressure of the outage didn’t last longer than six hours – I know I am!”
$50 billion wipeout
Facebook’s shares fell by around 5% on Monday as news of the outage spread, wiping some $50 billion off its market value.
Facebook is 17 years old – in many ways still an accident prone teenager – and its almost ubiquitous ownership of all the world’s most heavily usage social media sites must raise issues of competitiveness and, more importantly, safety, for both big business and the consumer.