by Mae Anderson
NEW YORK (AP) – The six-hour blockade on Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp was a headache for many casual users, but far more severe for the millions of people around the world who use social media to run their businesses or communicate with relatives. Media sites rely on, fellow parents, teachers or neighbors.
When all three services went dark on Monday, it was a stark reminder of the power and reach of Facebook, which owns the photo-sharing and messaging app.
Across the world, the breakdown on WhatsApp hurt many. In Brazil, the messaging service is by far the most widely used app in the country, installed on 99% of smartphones, according to technical pollster Mobile Time.
WhatsApp has become essential for communicating with friends and family in Brazil, as well as for many other tasks such as ordering food. Offices, various services and even the courts had trouble making appointments, and phone lines were overwhelmed.
Hundreds of thousands of Haitians in their homeland and abroad were upset by the WhatsApp outage.
Many of the country’s more than 11 million people rely on it to alert each other about mass violence in particular neighborhoods or to talk to relatives in the US about money transfers and other important matters. Haitian expatriates traveling to the US rely on it to find each other or share important information such as a safe place to sleep.
Nelzie Miril, a 35-year-old unemployed woman who relies on money sent from relatives abroad, said she stopped at a repair shop in the capital of Port-au-Prince because she thought her phone was faulty.
“I was waiting for confirmation of the money transfer from my cousin,” she said. “I was very disappointed.”
“I wasn’t able to hear from my love,” complained 28-year-old Wilkens Bourgogne, referring to his partner, who was in the neighboring Dominican Republic, buying stuff to bring back to Haiti. He said he was concerned about their safety due to the violence in his homeland.
“Insecurity worries everyone,” he said.
In rebel-held Syria, where the war has disrupted telecommunications infrastructure, residents and emergency workers rely mostly on Internet communications.
Nasser Almuhawish, a Turkish Syrian doctor who monitors coronavirus cases in rebel-held territory in Syria, said WhatsApp is the main communication method used with more than 500 workers in the region.
They switched to Skype, but WhatsApp works better when internet service is unstable, he said. There could have been bigger problems if there was an emergency like shelling that they needed to warn field personnel about, he said.
“Luckily it didn’t happen during the outage yesterday,” he said.
But panic gripped hospitals treating COVID-19 patients in the area. They lost contact with oxygen suppliers, who do not have a fixed location and are usually reached through WhatsApp. Dr. Fadi Hakim of the Syrian American Medical Society said a hospital sent staff members to about two dozen facilities looking for oxygen.
In Lima, Peru, the job of a breakdown complex dental technician Marie Mejia. Like most Peruvian medical workers, she uses WhatsApp for many tasks, including scheduling appointments and ordering crowns.
“Sometimes the doctor will be working on a patient and I need to contact a technician for the job,” she said. “To step away and call? It lifts us up. We’ve become so accustomed to this tool.”
“Millions of Africans use WhatsApp for all their voice calls, so “people felt like they were cut off from the world,” said Uganda’s Mark Tinka, head of engineering at SEACOM, a South Africa-based internet infrastructure company.
Many Africans also use WhatsApp to connect with relatives in other countries. Tinka’s stepdaughter lives in Caldwell, Idaho, and lost her father on Sunday, but could not speak with her family in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to make travel arrangements for the funeral.
“It’s amazing how little people understand the impact of three or four content companies on the usability of the Internet,” Tinka said.
Facebook said the outage was caused by an internal error related to a “configuration change”, but did not provide any details.
The outage came amid the crisis at Facebook, with “60 Minutes” being accused by a whistleblower and on Capitol Hill of profiteering from hate and divisiveness and suppressing research showing that Instagram is linked to body image problems, eating disorders and Contributes to suicidal thoughts in young women. .
For small businesses, outages meant the loss of hundreds or even thousands of dollars in revenue.
Andrawos Bassous is a Palestinian photographer in the Israeli-occupied West Bank with over 1 million followers on his Facebook page. He has worked with companies including Samsung and Turkish Airlines to create social media content. He said the social media blackout meant he was unable to book appointments or share videos for the companies that employ him.
“Imagine if you promised one of the companies you work for to share your product at a specific time and a blackout happens,” Bassas said.
Sarah Murdoch runs a small Seattle-based travel company called Adventures with Sarah and relies on Facebook Live videos to promote her tours. He estimated that booking the breakdown cost him thousands of dollars.
“I’ve tried other platforms because I’m wary of Facebook, but none of them are powerful for the type of content I create,” Murdoch said. To her detriment, “It may only be a few people, but we are so small it hurts.”
Heather Rader runs How Charming Photography in Linton, Indiana. She photographs and creates yard signs for schools and sports teams. She has her own website but she said that parents and other customers mostly try to reach her through social media.
She said she may have lost three or four bookings for a photo op at $200 per client.
“A lot of people only have a specific window of time when they can do orders and bookings and things like that,” she said. “If they don’t get a straight answer, they go to someone else.”
Tarita Karnduff, of Alberta, Canada, said she connects with other parents on Facebook almost every day, and the outage left home for her how important this support is.
“As a parent with children with special needs, this is the only place I’ve found other people in similar positions,” she said. “There are many of us who would be lost without it.”
But for others, the breakdown has led them to conclude that they need less Facebook in their lives.
Anne Vydra said she realized she was spending too much free time scrolling and commenting on posts she disagreed with. He deleted the Facebook app on Tuesday.
“I didn’t want it to come back,” said Vydra, who lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and does voiceover work. She continued: “I realized how much of my time was wasted.”
AP journalist Sarah El Deeb in Beirut; Jack Jeffery in Ramallah, West Bank; Evans Sanon in Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Diane Jeanette in Rio de Janeiro; Deborah Alvares in Brasilia, Brazil; Joseph Pisani and Tali Arbel in New York; and Frank Bajak in Boston contributed to this report.