Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp are back online after an hours long outage which wiped nearly $50bn off its parent company’s market value.
From around 4.30pm on Monday until late last night, users trying to log on to Facebook and Instagram reported being unable to connect to their profiles or access their messages.
Those who were trying to log into Instagram were met by a 5XX Server Error message while anyone trying to log into Facebook were either met by an unresponsive browser or an error message saying, “Sorry, there seems to be a problem…”
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg later apologised for the disruption.
Users of Facebook’s virtual reality arm, Oculus, also reported they were experiencing problems, while the Facebook messenger app was not working either.
Shares in the tech company fell 5.7 per cent on Monday and wiped $50bn (£36.7bn) off its market value.
Outages such as this can be costly for Facebook, as it has had to explore the possibility of providing refunds for advertisers in previous periods of disruption.
Facebook’s communications executive Andy Stone took to Twitter during the outage to insist that the company was “working to get things back to normal as quickly as possible”.
Why did the outage happen?
Facebook said the collapse was caused by a faulty configuration change, putting to bed concerns that it was caused by hackers.
Cyber security specialist Jake Moore had said there is a “chance” the issue could be related to a cyber attack.
He told the PA news agency: “There have been many reports and I’m struggling to find out exactly what has happened – I’m reading it could be DNS related, which means there is an issue with the connection not knowing where to go to your device.
“It could well be a human error or a software bug lurking in the shadows but whatever it is Facebook needs to do its best to mitigate the problem of causing more panic about this.
“The biggest problem is fears over a cyber attack but as we saw from Fastly in the summer I would hedge my bets on that not being the case as we’re talking about one of the biggest companies in the world, but there’s always a chance.”
In a statement on Tuesday, Facebook said that the faulty configuration change affected the company’s internal tools and systems which complicated attempts to resolve the problem.
It added that there was “no evidence that user data was compromised as a result of this downtime”.
The statement added: “Our engineering teams have learned that configuration changes on the backbone routers that coordinate network traffic between our data centres caused issues that interrupted this communication.
“This disruption to network traffic had a cascading effect on the way our data centres communicate, bringing our services to a halt.”
How it compares to previous outages
Websites going down is not unheard of, but the fact that Facebook is so big and used by roughly 2.89 billion monthly active users means it touches many aspects of our lives. Even if we don’t use Facebook, we will invariably come into contact with the other platforms associated with it: Instagram and WhatsApp.
There have been many disruptions to its service before before, but the last time Facebook suffered a significant even like this was in 2019.
The outage lasted 14 hours, and again affected most of its website, messaging apps and associated platforms.
Previously to this, Facebook’s site also crashed in 2008, but back then, it only had 150m users.
Social media criticism
Then, as now, the outages occurred against a backdrop of political criticism against the tech monopoly.
On Monday, as the disruption was unfolding to the websites, Frances Haugen former product manager on Facebook’s civic integrity team, claimed the company’s actions contributed to the Capitol Hill riots
Ms Haughen joined the company in 2019, shared internal research with The Wall Street Journal that claiming Facebook had conducted extensive research into Instagram’s negative effects on younger users – specifically teenage girls – but downplayed its significance in public.
She told CBS’s 60 Minutes programme that Facebook had “over and over again… shown it chooses profit over safety”, and that by shutting down its civic integrity team, had caused her to think: ‘I don’t trust that they’re willing to actually invest what needs to be invested to keep Facebook from being dangerous.’
“No one at Facebook is malevolent, but the incentives are misaligned, right?” she said.
“Facebook makes more money when you consume more content. People enjoy engaging with things that elicit an emotional reaction. And the more anger that they get exposed to, the more they interact and the more they consume.”
Instagram was also recently criticised for its decision to develop special version of the app, targeted at under 13s.
Instagram Kids has been criticised for attempting to make an “Instagram experience” for children under 13 to address the problem of users below this age using Instagram. The age of 13 is when users can create an account on the platform.
Instagram has routinely been accused of causing negative feelings for teenage girls. Research conducted by the company shows UK teenagers are among those most negatively affected by Instagram, with girls more likely to feel worse about themselves as a result of using the app than boys, the company’s own internal research has found.
Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, said while the company stood by its plans to develop a version of the photo-sharing app specifically for younger users, it would be ceasing its development to “give us time to work with parents, experts, policymakers and regulators”.