FRANK BAJAK and BARBARA ORTUTAY / Associated Press
A massive global outage plunged Facebook, its Instagram and WhatsApp platforms, and many people who rely heavily on these services – including Facebook’s own employees – into chaos on Monday.
The company didn’t say what could be causing the outage, which began around 11:40 a.m. ET and has still not been resolved more than six hours later, although isolated users have reported a partial recovery of one service or another. Websites and apps often suffer outages of varying sizes and durations, but hours of global disruption are rare.
“This is epic,” said Doug Madory, director of internet analytics at Kentik Inc, a network monitoring and intelligence company. The last major internet outage that took many of the world’s leading websites offline in June lasted less than an hour. The ailing content delivery company Fastly blamed a software error in this case, which was triggered by a customer who changed a setting.
For hours, the only public comment from Facebook was a tweet confirming that “some people are having trouble accessing (the) Facebook app” and work is being done to restore access. Regarding the internal failures, Instagram boss Adam Mosseri tweeted that it felt like a “snowy day”.
Mike Schroepfer, Facebook’s outgoing chief technology officer, later tweeted “sincere apologies” to everyone affected by the outage. Blaming “network problems”, he said the teams are “working as soon as possible to debug and recover as quickly as possible.”
There was no evidence of malicious activity as of Monday afternoon. Matthew Prince, CEO of Internet infrastructure provider Cloudflare, tweeted that “nothing we see in connection with the failure of Facebook services indicates that it was an attack.” Prince said the most likely explanation is that Facebook mistakenly disconnected from the internet during maintenance.
Facebook did not respond to messages commenting on the attack or the possibility of malicious activity.
While much of Facebook employees are still working remotely, there have been reports that employees on the company’s Menlo Park, Calif. Campus were having trouble entering buildings because the failure had rendered their security badges unusable.
But the impact has been far worse for many of Facebook’s nearly 3 billion users, showing just how much the world relies on Facebook and its properties – to do business, connect with online communities, log into several other websites, and more even ordering food.
It also revealed that despite the presence of Twitter, Telegram, Signal, TikTok, Snapchat, and a host of other platforms, nothing can replace the social network, which has effectively become a critical infrastructure over the past 17 years. The outage came the same day Facebook asked a federal judge to dismiss a revised Federal Trade Commission antitrust complaint against the company because it faces stiff competition from other services.
There are certainly online services for posting selfies, connecting with fans, or reaching out to elected officials. But those who rely on Facebook to run their business or communicate with friends and family in far-flung places find this little comfort.
Kendall Ross, owner of a knitwear brand called Knit That in Oklahoma City, said he had 32,000 followers on his Instagram business page @ id.knit.that. Almost all website traffic comes straight from Instagram. About an hour before Instagram came out, he posted a product photo. He said he tends to sell about two hand-knitted pieces after posting a product photo for around $ 300 to $ 400.
“The failure today is financially frustrating,” he said. “It’s also a great awakening that social media drives so much of my success in business.”
The cause of the failure remains unclear. Madory said it appears Facebook has deleted basic data that tells the rest of the internet how to communicate with its properties. This data is part of the Internet’s Domain Name System, a central component that controls data traffic. Without Facebook, which broadcasts his location on the public internet, apps and web addresses simply couldn’t find him.
So many people rely on Facebook, WhatsApp, or Instagram as their primary means of communication that such long access can leave them vulnerable to criminals who take advantage of the outage, said Rachel Tobac, a hacker and CEO of SocialProof Security.
“They don’t know how to contact the people in their life without them,” she said. “They’re more vulnerable to social engineering because they’re so desperate to communicate.” Tobac said during previous outages, some people received emails promising to restore their social media account by clicking a malicious link who can reveal their personal information.
Jake Williams, chief technical officer for cybersecurity firm BreachQuest, said that while foul play cannot be completely ruled out, the odds are that the failure is “an operational problem” caused by human error.
“It boils down to this: running a BIG system distributed even for Internet standards is very difficult, even for the very best,” tweeted Columbia University computer scientist Steven Bellovin.
Facebook was already in a separate major crisis after whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former Facebook product manager, provided the Wall Street Journal with internal documents that exposed the company’s awareness of the damage caused by its products and decisions. Haugen went public on the CBS program “60 Minutes” on Sunday and is due to testify in front of a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday.
Haugen had also anonymously filed complaints with federal law enforcement agencies alleging that Facebook’s own research shows how it exacerbates hate and misinformation, leading to increased polarization. It also revealed that the company was aware that Instagram can damage the mental health of teenage girls.
The journal’s stories, titled “The Facebook Files,” portrayed a company focused on growth and its own interests over the public good. Facebook tried to downplay the research. Nick Clegg, the company’s vice president of politics and public affairs, wrote in a memo to Facebook employees on Friday: “Social media has made a huge impact on society in recent years, and Facebook is often a place to be Much of this debate is taking place. ”
Meanwhile, Twitter reached out to the company’s main Twitter account and posted “Hello, literally everyone,” when jokes and memes about the Facebook outage flooded the platform. Later, when an unconfirmed screenshot suggesting the facebook.com address was for sale was circulating, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted, “How much?”
AP business writer Mae Anderson of New York and AP technology writer Matt O’Brien of Providence, RI contributed to this report.