Sunday, April 21, 2024

Here’s Why Facebook and Instagram Were Down

HomeTechHere's Why Facebook and Instagram Were Down

SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook and Instagram, two of the world’s largest social media platforms, experienced a global outage on Monday that left millions of users unable to access the services for several hours. The widespread disruption sparked confusion, frustration, and even panic among some users who feared their accounts had been hacked.

The issues began around 10:45 a.m. Eastern time, according to user reports and outage monitoring sites like Downdetector. At the peak of the incident, over 500,000 Facebook users reported problems with the platform. Instagram users encountered error messages like “Couldn’t refresh feed” when attempting to load the app.

Both Facebook and Instagram are owned by Meta Platforms Inc., the tech conglomerate formerly known as Facebook Inc. For several hours, the company remained silent on the matter, leaving users in the dark about the cause and severity of the outage.

Finally, just before noon Eastern time, Meta acknowledged the disruption on X, the social media platform previously called Twitter. “We’re working on this now, as some people are having difficulty accessing our apps and services,” tweeted Andy Stone, Meta’s communications director. “We’re working to get things back to normal as quickly as possible.”

The Outage Spreads Anxiety Among Users

As the outage dragged on with no official explanations, many Facebook and Instagram users began speculating that the services had been hacked, putting their personal data and private communications at risk.

“Is it just me or has Facebook and Instagram actually been hacked this time?” tweeted @SarahSoccerMom87. “My accounts won’t load at all.”

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“If Facebook got hacked and my private messages leaked I’m going to be so embarrassed,” wrote @MikeTheLawyer312.

However, cybersecurity experts quickly dismissed hacking as the likely culprit. “It’s highly unlikely to be a cyber-attack, but that can never be fully ruled out,” said Jake Moore, global cybersecurity advisor at ESET, a digital security company.

Meta finally put those fears to rest around 3:30 p.m. Eastern, over five hours into the outage. “Earlier today, a technical issue caused people to have difficulty accessing some of our services,” a Meta spokesperson stated. “We resolved the issue as quickly as possible for everyone who was impacted, and we apologize for any inconvenience.”

The Mocking and Jeering Begins

As is typical when one of the tech giants suffers an outage or service disruption, Meta quickly became the target of mockery and jeering on social media, especially from rivals.

Elon Musk, who acquired X (Twitter) last year for $44 billion, wasted no time trolling Meta. “If you’re reading this post, it’s because our servers are working,” he smugly tweeted as the Facebook outage raged.

The schadenfreude extended to mainstream media outlets as well. “In This New Era of Tech Failures, Users Are Getting Fed Up,” read one biting New York Times headline about the incident.

Even average users got in on the roasting. “Guess Facebook’s crack team of engineers is working hard to get this sorted out,” snarked @CyberDudeBro69 on X. “If by ‘working hard’ you mean playing foosball and drinking chai lattes.”

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Armchair Analysts Attempt to Diagnose Cause

With no official explanations forthcoming from Meta, internet sleuths attempted to diagnose the root cause of the outages through crowd-sourced data and online speculation.

Cyber intelligence researchers at ThousandEyes, a network outage monitoring service owned by Cisco, analyzed the disruption and concluded it was likely caused by an “issue with a backend service such as authentication.”

“ThousandEyes confirms that Meta’s web servers remained reachable, with network paths clear and web servers responding to users,” the researchers wrote in a blog post. “However, users attempting to login received error messages, suggesting a backend service, such as authentication, as the cause of the issue.”

Their analysis dovetailed with anecdotal reports from users who were unable to log into Facebook and Instagram but could access parts of the services if already logged in. By late afternoon Eastern time, the outage appeared largely resolved for most users, according to ThousandEyes data.

Why Do Outages Like This Keep Happening?

Monday’s outage was just the latest bout of downtime for Meta’s services in recent years. In 2021, a major Facebook outage caused a nearly six-hour disruption across its platforms, costing the company an estimated $164 million in lost revenue.

Frequent, widespread outages have experts questioning whether today’s tech giants have grown too large, complex and interdependent to reliably function without debilitating service disruptions.

“The issue here is one of centralization,” said Johannes Ulrich, a cybersecurity expert and lecturer at the University of San Francisco. “Facebook has become this massive monolithic service, and when one component fails, everything grinds to a halt.”

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“We’re seeing the limits of this sort of massively centralized internet architecture,” Ulrich added. “It’s incredibly fragile by design.”

Ulrich and other experts have advocated for decentralized services and platforms that are more distributed and redundant, making them less vulnerable to widespread outages from single points of failure. However, the business incentives and network effects of incumbent players like Meta may make it difficult for such architectures to gain mainstream adoption.

As of Monday evening Eastern time, Meta had not provided further details about the specific technical issues behind the outage. Some residual account login and two-factor authentication problems appeared to still be affecting a subset of users.

In addition to costing Meta advertising revenue, the disruption meant creators, small businesses and others lost out on income opportunities tied to the platforms during the extended downtime. While outages are inconvenient for casual users, they can have financial impacts for those who rely on Facebook and Instagram to drive business, engagement and sales.

Representatives for Meta did not immediately respond to a request for further comment about the outage, including its severity, total duration and ultimate root cause. In the big picture, however, Monday’s incident was yet another reminder that our reliance on a small handful of dominant internet services controlled by powerful tech companies can leave society vulnerable when those services falter.

Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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