The family of apps, including Facebook and Instagram and WhatsApp, was inaccessible for several hours on Monday, taking over a major communications site used by billions and showing how the world depends on a company under intense scrutiny.
Users reported that Facebook’s apps, including Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger and Oculus, started showing error messages at 11:40 a.m. Eastern time. In a matter of minutes, Facebook disappeared from the Internet. Although the company warned that the service would take a while to crash, the crash lasted more than five hours before some processors could slowly come to life again.
Still, the impact was far-sighted and drastic. Facebook has established itself as a Lynchpin site with news, live streaming, virtual reality and many more digital services. In some countries, such as Myanmar and India, Facebook is similar to the Internet. More than 3.5 billion people worldwide use Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp to connect with friends and family, to distribute political news, and to expand their businesses through advertising and publishing.
Facebook is used to sign in to many applications and services, leading to unexpected domino effects that prevent people from logging into shopping websites or logging into their smart TVs, thermostats and other Internet-connected devices.
Tech crashes are not uncommon, but it is not uncommon for multiple applications to be dark at once from the world’s largest social media company. Facebook’s last significant failure is a reminder that in 2019, when a technical error hits its sites 24 hours a day, a snapshot will shut down even the most powerful Internet companies.
This time, the cause of the crash was not clear. Two members of Facebook’s security team spoke on condition of anonymity because a hack usually does not affect multiple processors at once. Security experts said the problem may have been caused by a problem with Facebook’s server computers that did not allow people to connect with sites such as Instagram and WhatsApp.
The Facebook service was restored after a team accessed server computers at a data center in Santa Clara, California, three people who knew about the matter said. Then they were able to retrieve them.
The company apologized for the crash. “Sorry,” it said on Twitter after its apps started re-accessing. “Thank you for joining us.”
This crash added to Facebook’s growing difficulties. Over the weeks, the company has collected thousands of pages of internal research on a whistleblower, Frances Hogan, a former Facebook product manager. He then distributed the temporary savings to the media, lawmakers and regulators, who were aware of the many evils Facebook causes its services, including the fact that Instagram made teenage girls feel bad about themselves.
These revelations provoked an outcry among regulators, lawmakers and the general public. Hogan, who revealed his identity online on Sunday and in “60 Minutes”, is due to testify on Facebook’s impact on young users in Congress on Tuesday.
“Today’s crash has brought Facebook and its properties like WhatsApp and Instagram to a sharp relief,” said Brooke Erin Duffy, a communications professor at Cornell University. “Today’s downturn highlights the dangerous conditions that are building up our increasingly digitally mediated work economy.”
When the crash started on Monday morning, Facebook and Instagram users used Twitter to lament and watch the fun without being able to use the apps. The hashtag #Facebookdown also started trending. Memes about this incident abounded.
But a real number soon emerged because many people around the world relied on utilities to run their daily lives.
“We are losing thousands of sales because Facebook is down,” said Mark Donnelly, Ireland’s founding founder, who runs the fashion brand HUH Clothing, which focuses on the mentality of using Facebook and Instagram to reach customers. “It may not seem like a big deal to others, but losing four or five hours of sales can make a difference to paying electricity bills or monthly rent.”
Samir Muneer, who owns a food delivery service in Delhi, said he could not reach customers or fulfill orders because he was running a business through his Facebook page and receiving orders through WhatsApp.
“Everything has gone down and my whole business has gone down,” he said.
Douglas Veni, a player in Cleveland, who visits through Good Game Pro and is paid by visitors and subscribers on Facebook Gaming, said, “For a lot of people it’s hard when your primary platform for revenue is declining.” He called the situation “terrible.”
Inside Facebook, workers struggled as their internal systems stopped working. The company’s global security team shared an internal memo sent to employees and the New York Times stating that “a system crash affecting all Facebook internal systems and tools has been reported.” The note said the tools include security systems, an internal calendar and planning tools.
Employees said they had trouble making calls from cell phones provided by work and receiving emails from people outside the company. The workplace, Facebook’s internal communication site, was also taken out, leaving many unable to do their jobs. Some turned to other sites to get in touch, including LinkedIn and Zoom and Discord chat rooms.
Some Facebook employees returning to work in the office have been unable to enter buildings and conference rooms because their digital badges have stopped working. Security engineers said they were unable to assess the malfunction because they could not go to the server areas.
Facebook’s Global Security Action Center determined that “high risk to people, modern risk to property and high risk to Facebook’s reputation”.
A small team of staff was soon sent to Facebook’s data center in Santa Clara, California.
One sentiment that was publicly echoed by Instagram chief Adam Moseri was the number of Facebook workers equivalent to “Face Day”.
In the early days of Facebook, the site experienced periodic crashes as millions of new users flocked to the network. Over the years, it has spent billions of dollars to build its infrastructure and services, building the largest data centers in cities including Brainville, Oregon and Fort Worth, Texas.
The company has been trying to integrate the basic technological infrastructure of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram for years.
John Graham-Cumming, chief technology officer at web infrastructure company CloudFlare, said Monday that the problem was largely due to a malfunction of Facebook’s servers.
Computers convert websites such as Facebook.com into numeric Internet protocol addresses, which can be compared to a telephone address book. The problem with Facebook, he said, is that deleting phone numbers from the names of people in their address book makes it impossible to call them. As CloudFlare was directing traffic to Facebook, it knew in advance that it had crashed and saw the purpose of the incident.
“It was like Facebook was saying,‘ Goodbye, we’re leaving now, ’” Graham-Cumming said.