Sometimes it would be nice to just be able to disappear: the quilt on the nose, the hands in front of the eyes, and all the problems are solved. What might work for little kids doesn’t work on Facebook. Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp were offline for more than six hours Monday night. The services are running again. Other business problems still exist: Today, Tuesday, whistleblower Frances Haugen will testify before the US Senate and reiterate her serious allegations. At least the technical breakdown was brought under control overnight, and we now know what is behind it. Answers to the most important questions:
Why Did Facebook Services Fail?
The blog entry the company posted about it doesn’t contain too many details: A mistake was made in configuring the routers that control data traffic between data centers, Facebook writes. The company Cloudflare, which operates part of the Internet infrastructure, explains this in much more detail. Simply put, all three Facebook services have disappeared from the map of the World Wide Web.
When you enter facebook.com in your browser or open the Instagram app, a complex system of networks and IP addresses leads the way. Part of this is what’s known as the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), a kind of Internet control center. Like in a phone book, other devices can search where they can find the Facebook network, which then forwards them to Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp. Apparently, someone on Facebook accidentally deleted the entries in BGP or linked them incorrectly, and as a result, three of the biggest communication platforms in the world went invisible.
Did user data flow through the process?
Facebook says the failure was not a hacker attack, but a bug. There is no evidence that the attackers stole any data. So far, there is no reason to doubt this claim.
Why did the disruption last so long?
The problem affected not only the users, but also the employees of Facebook. The internal communication platform Workplace, Calendar, and other services failed. Employees could no longer make calls with their corporate cell phones and could no longer receive emails. Some were excluded from office buildings and conference rooms because access cards no longer worked. It probably affected the programmers who were supposed to fix the problem as well. Instagram boss Adam Mosseri wrote on Twitter that it felt like a “snowy day,” America’s version of the heatless.
How did failure affect you?
About three billion people have been unable to communicate through the platforms of their choice for some time. For most users in western countries, the damage is limited: so the selfie has to wait a few hours. Urgent questions can also be clarified over the phone. Businesses have been hit hardest before, after all Instagram in particular is an important marketing platform. Advertisers who place ads on Facebook are also likely to feel the effects.
It is harmless compared to the consequences in what are called the countries of the South. In some countries, Facebook services are synonymous with the Internet; in Brazil and India, for example, people pay with Whatsapp. For many refugees, the messenger is the only channel through which they can stay in touch with family and friends. Brazilians order recipes through Whatsapp, in Lebanon corona test results are sent through it. In Afghanistan, hundreds of thousands of people are still in hiding from the Taliban and exchanging ideas with loved ones via WhatsApp.
Who did it benefit from?
Twitter knew only one topic Monday night: #facebookdown, #whatsappdown and “Great Reset” dominated the trending topics. The official @Twitter account was “literally everyone welcome,” even the Whatsapp and Instagram social media teams commented under the tweet – where else should they post? Jack Dorsey also had fun: “Signal is WhatsUp,” wrote the boss of Twitter. WhatsApp’s competitors wouldn’t have needed the ad: Telegram rose to number one in the app rankings and Signal welcomed millions of new users.
Has there ever been a comparable failure?
The Down Detector service talks about the biggest failure in history. However, this only concerns the number of messages. The more people are online, the more they complain when something goes wrong. In fact, there have been more serious malfunctions. As of spring 2019, Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp were offline for almost 24 hours. There were also problems for a long time in December, March and April. Besides Facebook, Google, Youtube and other platforms fail, sometimes only in certain areas or for a short time. It will also not be possible to prevent this in the future: In the end, a little human error is enough, and there always will be.
What can we learn from it?
The global communications infrastructure is in the hands of a few companies. Three billion people use Facebook’s services, and for many, platforms are part of their digital identity. Facebook has even more ambitious plans: Mark Zuckerberg is working on the so-called Metaverse, a new evolutionary stage of the Internet. Part of life should take place in a virtual parallel universe which is like a filter on the analog world. In Facebook’s imagination, we are heading towards a future in which people communicate with VR glasses, smart gadgets, and avatars. Maybe it will actually happen – but the current outage shows that it wouldn’t be a good idea to leave control of critical digital infrastructure to a single company.