Earlier this month, billions of users were affected when Facebook and the platforms it owns, including WhatsApp and Instagram, were hit by an outage. We explain why this occurred and why it could well happen again in the future.
On Monday 4th October (or thereabouts depending on your timezone), billions of people could no longer access their much-loved social media and messaging platforms.
At first, we all assumed something was wrong with our internet connection or device, before quickly realising (perhaps via Twitter) that everyone else was experiencing the same problems.
The rare outage occurred, according to Facebook, because of a ‘configuration change’ to the backbone routers that coordinate network traffic which prevented its data centres from communicating with one another.
Web infrastructure firm Cloudfare broke down the situation in more detail, explaining how the faulty update essentially told Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) – which is essentially a roadmap for the internet – that the paths for everything Facebook runs were no longer there. This meant that people could no longer find a way to access Facebook and its services including WhatsApp and Instagram because they were no longer appearing to the “network of networks”.
You might also be wondering why the shutdown went on for such a long time. It seems that, because their own internal systems are run from the same place as the Facebook services that went down, Facebook staff were having trouble accessing anything to fix the issues.
In fact, there were reports that Facebook staff were reportedly unable to access their own communications platform, Workplace, and were unable to access their office due to the security pass system being caught up in the outage.
We have all grown to depend on the internet for much of our daily lives, but issues and breakages can still occur by accident, triggered by something as simple as an update.
Websites and platforms like Facebook are not infallible, as many are coming to realise, so, although this was a rare occurrence, there is still a chance that something like this will occur again.
While you could argue that it might do us all some personal good to have a break from social media, many small businesses around the world rely on Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp in order to advertise their products and services, and many people also rely on these platforms for their daily communications, so the breakages have a huge impact.
A disruptive blackout like this one demonstrates the problem of so much of the world’s communications being concentrated in Silicon Valley and in the hands of just a selection of the very biggest tech companies on the planet.
Did Facebook not also own both WhatsApp and Instagram, at least some of these services would still be up and running. However, when a company owns several major platforms, any failures will have an even wider impact on our daily lives.