Dubai: Thousands of users worldwide started reporting issues with WhatsApp late on Monday. The Down Detector site, which logs outages of platforms worldwide, had around 35,000 reports relating to the outage since 7pm (UAE time).
The site which only tracks outages by collating status reports from a series of sources, including user-submitted errors on its platform - showed there were more than 50,000 incidents of people reporting issues with Facebook and Instagram. As of 11.30pm on Monday, the outage on all three platforms had not been fixed. The platforms updated users on the respective Twitter channels that the issues were being worked on.
Along with these global social media sites, Facebook's internal systems used by employees also went down. Service has not yet been restored. The company did not say what might be causing the outage. Websites and apps often suffer outages of varying size and duration, but hours-long global disruptions are rare.
"This is epic,'' Doug Madory, director of internet analysis for Kentik Inc. said to AP. The last major internet outage, which knocked many of the world's top websites offline in June, lasted less than an hour.
Facebook's only public comment so far was a tweet in which it acknowledged that "some people are having trouble accessing (the) Facebook app'' and that it was working on restoring access. Regarding the internal failures, Instagram head Adam Mosseri tweeted that it feels like a "snow day.''
Facebook said in a tweet, "We’re aware that some people are having trouble accessing our apps and products. We’re working to get things back to normal as quickly as possible, and we apologize for any inconvenience."
What could have happened: Technical issue or foul play?
The cause of the outage remains unclear. Malory said that it appears that Facebook withdrew "authoritative DNS routes'' that let the rest of the internet communicate with its properties. Such routes are part of the internet's Domain Name System, a key structure that determines where internet traffic needs to go. DNS translates an address like "facebook.com'' to an IP address like 188.8.131.520. If Facebook's DNS records disappeared, apps and web addresses would be unable to locate it.
Jake Williams, chief technical officer of the cybersecurity firm BreachQuest, said that while foul play cannot be completely ruled out, chances were good that the outage is "an operational issue'' caused by human error.
Madory added that there was no sign that anyone but Facebook was responsible and discounted the possibility that another major internet player, such as a telecom company, might have inadvertently rewritten major routing tables that affect Facebook. "No one else announced these routes,'' said Madory.
So, experts have concluded that the entire outage could be the result of an internal mistake, though sabotage by an insider would be theoretically possible. An outside hack was viewed as less likely. A massive denial-of-service attack that could overwhelm one of the world's most popular sites, on the other hand, would require either coordination among powerful criminal groups or a very innovative technique.
Everyone is on Twitter
As these sites stopped working, memes started flooding micro-blogging site Twitter. Twitter chimed in from the company's main Twitter account, posting "hello literally everyone'' as jokes and memes about the Facebook outage flooded the platform. Later, as an unverified screenshot suggesting that the facebook.com address was for sale circulated, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted, "how much?''
Several users using their Facebook credentials to log in to third-party apps such as Pokemon Go and Match Masters were also facing issues.
"If your game isn't running as usual please note that there's been an issue with Facebook login servers and the moment this gets fixed all will be back to normal," puzzle game app Match Masters said on its Twitter account.
Facebook in more trouble
The outage comes a day after a whistleblower went on US television to reveal her identity after she leaked a trove of documents to authorities alleging the company knew its products were fueling hate and harming children's mental health.
Frances Haugen, a 37-year-old data scientist from Iowa, has worked for companies including Google and Pinterest - but said in an interview with CBS news show "60 Minutes" that Facebook was "substantially worse" than anything she had seen before. Haugen said in the interview that aired Sunday that "Facebook's own research says, as these young women begin to consume this -- this eating disorder content, they get more and more depressed. And it actually makes them use the app more."
Haugen also anonymously filed complaints with federal law enforcement alleging that Facebook's own research shows how it magnifies hate and misinformation, leads to increased polarization and that Instagram, specifically, can harm teenage girls' mental health.
The Journal's stories, called "The Facebook Files,'' painted a picture of a company focused on growth and its own interests over the public good. Facebook has tried to play down the research. Nick Clegg, the company's vice president of policy and public affairs, wrote to Facebook employees in a memo Friday that ``social media has had a big impact on society in recent years, and Facebook is often a place where much of this debate plays out.''