For several hours on Monday, there was a reminder of what life was like before Facebook came to dominate the world of social media as its flagship platform along with Instagram and WhatsApp failed to function. For 3.5 billion users — half of the people on this planet — the social media sites were unreachable, with individuals and companies alike unable to communicate with anyone else. For a couple of hours it felt weird but quite surprisingly normal.
Facebook has blamed a “faulty configuration change” for the outage and, ironically, had to take to its bitter social media rival Twitter to communicate with the world for the six hours when its sites were down.
The outage should serve as a timely reminder indeed to all that the more the internet takes charge of our daily life, of the way we engage in commerce and communicate with family, friends and colleagues, the more that an accidental error of programming will wreak havoc and worldwide disruption of communication.
Faulty code strings
If the world’s largest social media conglomerate can be reduced to error messages by faulty code strings or errant programming, then there must be a solution to this. (On a lighter note: Monday’s outage provided a breather for those of us tired of consistently have to answer WhatsApp message. People actually picked up the phone and spoke to each other!)
If there is a lesson here, it is that the internet — all of the systems that make it function — need not only to be robust but also de-monopolised. If that means governments take meaningful action to break-up these tech giants to ensure greater efficiency, then so be it. Facebook has perhaps become too big and too dangerously vulnerable at the same time.
The internet was initially conceived as an interconnected network of servers talking to each other that could provide communications in the event of a nuclear attack. The idea is that it be robust and dependable no matter what.
That is a principle that still holds true — and we have become too reliant on the technology and those who control it, who in turn must invest part of the huge profits they make to ensure their systems are robust and reliable — now and moving forward.
Over recent years, with admissions over privacy concerns and misuse of personal data, Facebook had faced calls for it to be broken up. This outage may renew those concerns. The big question is can we remain so dependent on a single company that when it goes down, half of the planet would scramble for cover?