Complex Made Simple

All you need to know about Facebook’s face slap

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Facebook has 2.7 billion monthly active users and hundreds of millions also using WhatsApp and Instagram. Everything ground to a halt on Monday. Is Facebook facing an existential threat?

A former Facebook product manager said the company deliberately kept people and children hooked on its services Zuckerberg said many of the claims "don't make any sense" The social media giant hemorrhaged $79 million in ad revenue during six hours of downtime

Some 6 hours after Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram went down midday Monday, service started coming back online. Facebook’s own site would not load at all during the outage while Instagram and WhatsApp were accessible, but could not load new content or send messages.

Facebook is the world’s most popular social media site with 2.7 billion monthly active users and hundreds of millions of others using WhatsApp and Instagram.

What happened?

Cisco’s internet analysis division ThousandEyes said on Twitter that its tests indicated the outage was due to an ongoing Domain Name System (DNS) failure. The DNS translates website names into IP addresses that can be read by a computer.  

Facebook VP of infrastructure Santosh Janardhan said in a statement Tuesday morning that “no malicious activity” was involved.

Later on Monday, Santosh Janardhan, Facebook’s VP of infrastructure, released a statement saying “Our engineering teams have learned that configuration changes on the backbone routers that coordinate network traffic between our data centers caused issues that interrupted this communication. This disruption to network traffic had a cascading effect on the way our data centers communicate, bringing our services to a halt.”

He added the company has “no evidence that user data was compromised as a result of this downtime.”

24 hours earlier, “60 Minutes” aired a segment in which Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen claimed the company is aware of how its platforms are used to spread hate, violence, and misinformation, and that Facebook has tried to hide that evidence.

Whistleblowing Facebook

Haugen, a former Facebook product manager told a Senate subcommittee how the company deliberately kept people and children hooked on its services.  

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 “The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer but won’t make the necessary changes,” she said.

Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive, rebutted these claims, including engagement with harmful content, calling the accusations “deeply illogical.”

“It’s up to lawmakers to turn that evidence into regulations that address the specific issues she raised,” said The New York Times tech columnist Kevin Roose. “It’s hard to be optimistic on that front, given Congress’s record on tech regulation,” he wrote.

Over the preceding weeks, Haugen released thousands of pages of internal documents to regulators and the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).  

The Wall Street Journal’s series of reports were based on leaked internal Facebook research. 

In a letter to staff, Zuckerberg said many of the claims “don’t make any sense,” pointing to their efforts in fighting harmful content, establishing transparency and creating “an industry-leading research program to under these important issues”.

He wrote: “We care deeply about issues like safety, well-being and mental health,” he said in the letter, made public on his Facebook page. “It’s difficult to see coverage that misrepresents our work and our motives.”

Zuckerberg, in his letter, said the research into Instagram had been mischaracterized and that many young people had positive experiences of using the platform. But he said, “it’s very important to me that everything we build is safe and good for kids.”

Haugen also criticized Zuckerberg for having wide-ranging control, saying that there is “no one currently holding Mark accountable but himself.”

On October 5, both Republican and Democratic senators agreed on the need for change at the company.

Business impact of the outage

This was the worst outage for Facebook since a 2019 incident took its site offline for more than 24 hours when the downtime hit hardest on the small businesses and creators who rely on these services for their income.

Zuckerberg’s personal wealth fell by nearly $7 billion in a few hours, and the social-media giant’s stock plummeted around 5% on Monday, adding to a drop of about 15% since mid-September. The stock slide on Monday sent Zuckerberg’s worth down to $120.9 bn.

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image source: https://www.cnet.com/

Millions of new users joined Signal on Monday, it said on Twitter. Telegram, whose functionality closely mirrors that of WhatsApp, surged 55 places to top the US iPhone download chart, according to Sensor Tower.

A rough calculation provided by fact-checking website Snopes suggests that the social media giant hemorrhaged $79 million in ad revenue during six hours of downtime.

The New York Times files

The New York Times files exposed evidence that Facebook has a two-tier justice system, that it knew Instagram was worsening body-image issues among girls and that it had a bigger vaccine misinformation problem than it let on, among other issues.

Facebook is in trouble, the NY Times opined.

Not financial trouble, or legal trouble but a steady decline that anyone who has ever seen a dying company up close can recognize.

“Insiders see a hundred small, disquieting signs of it every day, like user-hostile growth hacks, frenetic pivots, executive paranoia, the gradual attrition of talented colleagues,” The NY Times described.

In an installment of The Journal’s series that landed last week, the article revealed that the company has been strategizing about how to market itself to children, referring to preteens as a “valuable but untapped audience.”

According to the NY Times, Facebook’s thirst for young users is less about dominating a new market and more about staving off irrelevance. Facebook use among teenagers in the US has been declining for years, and internal researchers predicted that daily use would decline 45% by 2023.

The researchers also revealed that Instagram, whose growth offset declining interest in Facebook’s core app for years, is losing market share to faster-growing rivals like Snapchat and TikTok.

“When tastemakers abandon your platforms en masse, it is the one that kills you. And it appears to be the one that Facebook executives are most worried about,” it said.

The NY Times did admit that it’s far too early to declare Facebook dead.

The company’s stock price has risen nearly 30% in the past year, lifted by strong advertising revenue and a spike in the use of some products during the pandemic.

Facebook is also still growing in countries outside the US. And the company has invested heavily in newer initiatives, like augmented and virtual reality products, which could turn the tide if they’re successful.