SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook and its families, including Instagram and WhatsApp, were inaccessible for hours on Monday, taking out a vital communications platform used by billions and showing how dependent the world has become on a company that has been subjected to intense scrutiny. is subordinated.
Facebook’s apps — which include Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger and Oculus — began displaying the error message at around 11:40 p.m. Eastern time, users reported. Within minutes Facebook had disappeared from the Internet. The outage lasted for more than five hours before some apps slowly came back to life, though the company warned that it would take time for services to stabilize.
Nevertheless, the impact was far-reaching and serious. Facebook has built itself into a linchpin platform with messaging, livestreaming, virtual reality and many other digital services. In some countries, such as Myanmar and India, Facebook is synonymous with the Internet. More than 3.5 billion people around the world use Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp to communicate with friends and family, deliver political messages, and expand their businesses through advertising and outreach.
Facebook is used to sign in to many other apps and services, leading to unexpected domino effects such as people logging into shopping websites or signing into their smart TVs, thermostats and other Internet-connected devices. are not able to.
Lack of technology is not uncommon, but it was extremely unusual for the world’s largest social media company to have so many apps going black at the same time. Facebook’s last significant outage was in 2019, when a technical error affected its sites for 24 hours, in a reminder that a snafu can cripple even the most powerful Internet companies.
This time, the reason for the outage remained unclear. Two members of Facebook’s security team, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was unlikely a cyberattack was the culprit because a hack typically doesn’t affect so many apps at once. Security experts said the problem is most likely due to a problem with Facebook’s server computer, which was not allowing people to connect to sites like Instagram and WhatsApp.
Three people with knowledge of the matter said that Facebook eventually restored service after accessing a team’s server computer at a data center in Santa Clara, California. Then they were able to reset them.
The company apologized for the outage. “We’re sorry,” it said after its apps were again accessible on Twitter. “Thanks for staying with us.”
The outage added to Facebook’s growing troubles. For weeks, the company has been related to a whistleblower, Frances Haugen, a former Facebook product manager who has amassed thousands of pages of internal research. She has since distributed cash to the news media, lawmakers and regulators, revealing that Facebook was aware of the many damages its services were causing, including Instagram making teen girls feel bad about themselves.
The revelations have sparked outrage among regulators, lawmakers and the public. Haugen, who revealed his identity online and on “60 Minutes” on Sunday, is scheduled to testify in Congress on Tuesday about Facebook’s impact on young users.
“Today’s outage brought our reliance on Facebook — and its assets like WhatsApp and Instagram — into sharp relief,” said Brooke Erin Duffy, professor of communications at Cornell University. “Today’s sudden outage highlights the staggering level of uncertainty that structures our increasingly digitally mediated work economy.”
When the outage began on Monday morning, Facebook and Instagram users took to Twitter to lament and poke fun at the inability to use the app. The hashtag #facebookdown also started trending. Memes spread about the incident.
But a real toll soon emerged, as many people around the world depend on apps to conduct their daily lives.
Mark Donnelly, who runs startup founder Mark Donnelly in Ireland, a fashion brand focused on mental health that uses Facebook and Instagram to reach customers, said, “Facebook is down, we have lost thousands in sales. The damage is happening.” “It may not seem like much to others, but missing out on four or five hours of sales can be the difference between paying an electricity bill or paying for a month’s rent.”
Sameer Munir, who owns a food-delivery service in Delhi, said he was unable to reach customers or fulfill orders as he runs the business through his Facebook page and takes orders through WhatsApp.
“Everything is down, my whole business is down,” he said.
Douglas Weeny, a gamer in Cleveland who goes by GoodGamebro and who is paid by viewers and customers at Facebook Gaming, said, “It’s hard when your primary platform for income for a lot of people goes down. ” He called the situation “scary”.
Inside Facebook, activists also scrambled because their internal systems stopped working. According to an internal memo sent to employees and shared with the New York Times, the company’s global security team was “notified of a system outage affecting all Facebook internal systems and devices.” Those tools include security systems, an internal calendar and scheduling tools, the memo said.
Employees said they had trouble making calls from work cell phones and receiving emails from people outside the company. Facebook’s internal communications platform, Workplace, was also taken down, leaving many people unable to do their jobs. Some turned to other platforms to communicate, including LinkedIn and Zoom, as well as Discord chat rooms.
Some Facebook employees who returned to work in the office were also unable to enter buildings and conference rooms because their digital badges stopped working. Security engineers said they were hampered in assessing the outage because they could not access server areas.
Facebook’s Global Security Operations Center determined that the outage was “a high risk to people, a moderate risk to assets and a high risk to Facebook’s reputation,” the company memo said.
According to an internal memo, a small team of employees was soon sent to Facebook’s Santa Clara, California, data center to attempt a “manual reset” of the company’s servers.
Several Facebook activists called the outage the equivalent of a “snow day,” a sentiment that was publicly echoed by Instagram chief Adam Mosseri.
In the early days of Facebook, the site experienced occasional shutdowns as millions of new users flocked to the network. Over the years, it spent billions of dollars to build out its infrastructure and services, building huge data centers in cities including Prineville, Oregon, and Fort Worth, Texas.
The company has also been trying to integrate the underlying technical infrastructure of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram for several years now.
John Graham-Cumming, chief technology officer at Web infrastructure company Cloudflare, said Monday’s problem was most likely a misconfiguration of Facebook’s servers.
Computers convert websites such as facebook.com into numerical Internet Protocol addresses through a system that is compared to a phone’s address book. He said Facebook’s issue was the equivalent of removing people’s phone numbers from their names in their address book, making it impossible to call them. Because Cloudflare directs traffic to Facebook, it was aware of the outage early on and looked at the scope of the incident.
“It was like Facebook just said, ‘Goodbye, we’re leaving now,'” Graham-Cumming said.