Saying that Facebook, the US-based social media corporation, has had a bad week is an understatement.
The company, owned and led by tech legend Mark Zuckerberg, began the week on a direly sour note after its group of social media platforms, including WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook were all down for around 5 to 6 hours on Monday.
According to Facebook, the massive outage that left roughly 3.5-billion of its users in the dark was caused by a “faulty configuration change.”
Reports indicate that a networking issue surrounding a new update broke how Facebook advertises where its servers are to the internet using a Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), effectively making the servers undiscoverable. Meaning that users (and company employees) could not gain access to any of the social media networks Facebook provides.
The 6-hour outage effectively brought the economic engine of the company to a screeching halt. Forbes estimates that the company lost about $65-million during the outage, while CEO and founder Zuckerberg also took a haymaker to his personal fortune. As Facebook’s stocks dropped 4.8% in trading on Monday, Zuckerberg lost $5.9-billion (He still remains the world’s sixth-richest person.)
During the outage, millions upon millions of users scurried to find ways to communicate after WhatsApp went down, leading to rival companies like Telegram, Signal and Snapchat racking up millions of sign-ups.
Blowing the Whistle on Facebook
Immediately on the heels of the massive outage, Facebook’s problems grew deeper when an insider blew the whistle on the company before a panel of the Senate Commerce Committee of the US.
According to the testimony of insider Frances Haugen, a former product manager at Facebook, the social media company is aware of societal and mental health risks associated with its platforms but wants US Congress to believe they are too difficult to fix.
Haugen described research that she says shows how the company prioritised profits while stoking division among its users, while also “undermining democracy” and harming the psychological well-being of its youngest users.
“I saw Facebook repeatedly encounter conflicts between its own profits and our safety,” Haugen said.
“Facebook consistently resolved those conflicts in favour of its own profits. The result has been more division, more harm, more lies, more threats, and more combat.”
Zuckerburg and company pushed back against Haugen’s allegations, arguing that while some teens say its social media is harmful, others believe that it provides benefits instead.
Facebook also pointed to its recent investments in safety and security as proof that the company cares about its largest issues, like fighting misinformation and hate speech. The company claims it has spent more than $13-billion in safety and security efforts since 2016.
Should Facebook Control the World’s Social Media?
Facebook’s outage has spurred conversation across countries about the need for local services over services provided by trillion-dollar corporations.
In South Africa, communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said that this week’s massive social media outage served as a reminder that governments around the world can do more to support the development of local social media platforms.
Ntshavheni said that the creation and popularity of MXit, a Naspers-backed chat service established in South Africa, was evidence that local companies could indeed produce successful technology with the right backing.
“South Africa needs to support young people and citizens to develop social media platforms that we use,” said the minister, who was transferred in August from the department of small business development.