Tech

Rivals set to benefit after Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp suffer a six-hour-long outage

Business Insider SA
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has lot to think about.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
  • Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp were down for hours.
  • This follows revelations that Facebook knowingly causes harm to teenage users.
  • The outage is set to boost rivals Twitter and Telegram.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Social media powerhouse Facebook not only went down for six hours, it also had to go through the humiliation of confirming a widespread outage on rival platform Twitter, on Monday.

In a tweet, Facebook – which has 2.85 billion users and generated $86 billion in 2020 – said it was “aware that some people are having trouble accessing our apps and products”.

There were more than a few people who could not access its service with media groups ranging from the New York Times, The Independent and the Hindustan Times reporting they were being affected by the outage.

The outage was across all the group’s platforms, with messaging service WhatsApp – it has 2 billion users – and imaging-sharing platform, Instagram – it has 1,38 billion users – and Facebook Messenger – it has 1,3 billion users – effectively being shut down.

In SA, the outage could have affected as many as 23 million who regularly use WhatsApp. According to Statista, some 93% of local internet users made use of the messaging app.

The outage made a bad week worse for Facebook as it came just hours after the Wall Street Journal published another story in its expose on the tech giant allegedly showing it had knowingly caused its users harm.

A former product manager on Facebook’s civic integrity team, Frances Haugen had produced internal documents showing that the group had known Instagram had negatively impacted the mental health of teenagers, but chose profits over changing its behaviour.

Haugen appeared in a 60 Minutes interview saying that: “There were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook. And Facebook, over and over again, chose to optimise for its own interests, like making more money.”

 

Haugen, who has also once worked for Google and Pinterest says Facebook’s behaviour was unusually bad. “I’ve seen a bunch of social networks, and it was substantially worse at Facebook than what I’ve seen before.”

Aside from dealing with the public relations fallout, Facebook could face stiff penalties from the government as Haugen had handed over the incriminating documents to US authorities.

Risky business

The revelations of Facebook’s alleged disregard for the safety of minors did not come as a surprise to World Wide Worx CEO, Arthur Goldstuck.

Goldstuck says those who have been monitoring Facebook for years have noticed a pattern where it, along with its CEO and co-founder, Mark Zuckerberg, were seemingly blind to the damage it was doing to society.

“He has the remarkable ability to pull the wool over his own eyes.”

The same disregard it has shown for the safety of its users, it has shown in the setting up of its operations. The standard practice is for platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram to be ringfenced from each other so as to prevent a catastrophic outage for the group.

Goldstuck says it looked like Facebook did not do this separation, possibly to be able to scale up quickly, but has now paid the price for putting all its eggs in one basket.

The cost to Facebook could be very high, notes Goldstuck. In 2019, the last time it had such a huge outage, it took months for it to regain public trust, according to a leaked Zuckerberg memo. If people don't trust the platform, there is the danger they would use it less, which is in turn bad for its bottom line.

Rival services are sure to gain from the latest outage, he says. With WhatsApp being the de facto messaging platform for 2 billion users, and the outage stretching from about 17:00 SA time to well past midnight, platforms like Telegram, Slack and Signal are well placed to sign up new users.

The South African Presidency for instance was quick to set up a Telegram group for the media.

(Compiled by Larry Claasen)

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