Yesterday evening, the world went black. Well, Facebook did—as well as Instagram and WhatsApp. And as quickly as it takes to refresh your newsfeed, Zuckerberg’s fortune took a big hit. Poof… Just like that, his wealth declined by $5.9 billion. He now has a mere total value of $117 billion—dropping him down to only the world’s sixth-richest person (down from fourth). A moment of silence, please.
The smack to Facebook’s stocks came from two sides. First, an unusually long outage of its platforms, Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp, which I’m sure if you’re as addicted to social media as me you would’ve either experienced first hand or enjoyed the memes on Twitter which ensued following the outage.
The blackout lasted 5 hours: a mistake that likely cost the company tens of millions of dollars in revenue. A statement from the social media giant confirmed that the cause of the blackout was a configuration change to the backbone routers that coordinate network traffic between the company’s data centres. Although outages have happened in Facebook’s past—notably one in 2019 which lasted for 14 hours and another in 2008 that lasted a complete day—the recent outage, which occurred 4 October 2021, affected Facebook’s internal systems too. This meant that it was impossible for employees to access emails, the internal messaging system—known as the Workplace—and, alarmingly, even impacted the access of some doors at the company’s headquarters.
Secondly, Facebook is also dealing with the repercussions of last week’s Congressional hearing, where a former product manager, Frances Haugen, is testifying about her decision to become a whistleblower and leak internal data to the Wall Street Journal. In an interview on 60 Minutes, she criticised Facebook for putting “profits over people” and failing to maintain safeguards against misinformation after the 2020 presidential election.
So, is this the killing blow for Facebook? Pfft. Do you really think a measly scandal and outage could take down this tech giant? As soon as the servers came back up, we all scrambled back to the eternal news feed scrolling. Like a moth to a flame. A habit I’m also guilty of. In fact, Facebook’s stocks have proven to be surprisingly durable over the past few years of scandals—including last year’s ad boycott and posts of the January 2021 riots suddenly vanishing from the site. Shares have remained at near-record highs, closing Monday 4 October at $365, a more than 150 per cent increase in five years.
For some the outage of Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp was an inconvenience—the infuriation of the buffer wheel: the way it relentlessly spins right back at you, in an almost taunting manner. For others, it may have been a much-needed relief from the 24/7 bombardment of the social media news cycle.
However, across the globe, there’s no doubt the blackout of these services caused some disruption. In Mexico, politicians were cut off from their constituents. In Brazil, pharmacies stopped receiving prescription orders. And in Colombia, a nonprofit organisation that uses WhatsApp to connect victims of gender-based violence to lifesaving services found its work impaired.
Unfortunately, as the world becomes more interconnected—and consequently reliant on technology—social media will continue to become an influential machine that keeps the world turning. In my opinion, at least, there’s no going back—and no reason to go back, considering the benefits seamless communication, which is largely accessible to the masses, can bring. What we do need to evaluate, however, is how much trust we put in tech companies to keep society moving. It’s not an issue of if Facebook’s services go down again, it’s when. And when that time comes, it’s important we’re prepared. At least we’ll always have Twitter to vent our worries through though, right?