When Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram suddenly went down on Monday evening, the lives of many users worldwide were disrupted by the six-hour outage.
Now that the apps are back up, the episode has lifted the veil on just how reliant the world has become on these and other social media platforms.
Individuals, businesses, corporates and other entities that depend on these platforms for communication were cut off from loved ones and customers. For some businesses, life literally came to a standstill.
Downdetector, a company that tracks tech outages across the world, said that during the blackout, at least 10.6 million problem reports were made, and that the actual number of people affected was more than 3.5 billion.
In a statement, Facebook said the hitch was caused by a configuration change to its routers.
The impact and our reliance
The services offered by the US technology giant power a significant portion of the word’s digital economy, and so businesses that run Facebook and Instagram ads and use the platforms as their primary mode of communication suffered huge losses.
In Kenya, WhatsApp is the most popular way of staying in touch. It is also used as a tool for professional communication by many firms.
“I use WhatsApp to communicate with my suppliers every evening because I need them to send me the merchandise and their specifications by morning. This time, I had to call and give someone my order. WhatsApp has always been convenient because a few people actually open their emails on phone,” said Mercy Kuria, a Nakuru businesswoman.
Another user, Edith Koskey, said she was unable to take orders from clients on her Facebook page, which she says serves as the ‘shelf’ for her stock. For her, the impact of the outage was hard.
“I am not the typical brick and mortar businesswoman. All my businesses are conducted online, so when Facebook, which is connected to my WhatsApp, went down, I had no orders and this really affected business. I also rely on Facebook for ads,” she said.
Media businesses, which have also been livestreaming their services, recorded a drop in viewership. A section of editors who also depend on WhatsApp Groups for real-time alerts and planning also had a hard time.
“We depend on Facebook and Instagram as a platform to share links that usher readers to our sites and so this snafu really affected the operations of the media houses. It is actually worrying that one company can bring the world to a standstill,” an editor said.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took to Twitter to acknowledge the globe’s reliance on Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram.
“I know how much you rely on our services to stay connected with the people you care about,” he said as he apologised for the disruption.
The outage also came as Facebook faces multiple challenges, including concerns about users’ privacy. Additionally, one of its former employees, Frances Haugen, alleged that Facebook's own research shows that it amplifies hate, misinformation and political unrest.