Why did Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp’s outages last so long?

Mark Zuckerberg has apologized for the 6-hour "disruption" to Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp.
Mark Zuckerberg has apologized for the 6-hour “disruption” to Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp.

Social media platforms Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp went offline yesterday for almost six hours. The three platforms, which run on a shared infrastructure, went down around 5 PM GMT, yesterday evening. The outage impacted over 3.5 billion users globally. Zuckerberg has apologized for the crash, announcing: “Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger are coming back online now. Sorry for the disruption today — I know how much you rely on our services to stay connected with the people you care about.”

What went wrong? 

Sheera Frenkel, the New York Times’ technology reporter, told the Today programme part of the reason it took so long to fix was that “the people trying to figure out what this problem was couldn’t even physically get into the building” to work out what had gone wrong.

Facebook released an updated statement today, explaining the outage: “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.

“Our services are now back online and we’re actively working to fully return them to regular operations. We want to make clear that there was no malicious activity behind this outage — its root cause was a faulty configuration change on our end. We also have no evidence that user data was compromised as a result of this downtime. (Updated on Oct. 5, 2021, to reflect the latest information)”

Impact

Businesses across the world that rely on Facebook and Instagram for generating revenue have all lost funds. Zuckerberg himself has estimated a loss of US$6mn of his fortune as Facebook shares dropped during the outage. This is bad news for Facebook, which is dealing with the fallout of whistleblower former Facebook employee Frances Haugen, who told CBS that the company had prioritized “growth over safety.” She will testify before a Senate subcommittee in a hearing titled “Protecting Kids Online” on Tuesday.

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Foul Play?

The BBC’s analyst, James Clayton, North America technology reporter, said: “Many outages get resolved fairly quickly. They are often localized too, with some people unable to open a website that can be viewed in another country. This outage, however, was global, and affected all of Facebook’s many spin-offs. The length of time it was off-grid is also unusual. There were reports of “mayhem” in Facebook headquarters, as technicians scrambled to fix the problem. Interesting too that the outage hampered Facebook’s ability to tackle the crash – bringing down internal tools needed to remedy the problem.”

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Amber Donovan-Stevens

Amber is a Content Editor at Top Business Tech

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