Facebook Outage: Not a Hack But Shows Dire Need for CompetitionMonday’s Facebook outage was a sobering lesson on the power (and, ironically, helplessness) of monopoly Big Social Media
As the New York Times put it, “When apps used by billions of people worldwide blinked out, lives were disrupted, businesses were cut off from customers — and some Facebook employees were locked out of their offices.” (October 4, 2021)
A less sympathetic source writes,
As of publishing time, Facebook has been down for several hours, along with WhatsApp, Instagram, Messenger, and Oculus VR. But that’s just the beginning. The social media behemoth’s stock prices also crashed on Monday, making the company’s already bad day even worse. The plummet in stock prices came as a Facebook executive was on CNBC defending the company against claims by a whistleblower that the company prioritized profit over the safety of young Facebook users.Paula Bolyard, “[UPDATED] Facebook Is Having a Very, VERY Bad Day (Cue World’s Tiniest Violin)” at PJ Media” (October 4, 2021)
There were claims that 1.5 billion Facebook users’ data was for sale to hackers. So was the domain name itself allegedly, with Twitter’s Jack Dorsey chiming in, wanting to know, “How much?”.
When the mess got sorted later, according to Ars Technica,
The root cause of the worldwide outage appears to be a flubbed BGP [Border Gateway Protocol] route update…
With no BGP routes into Facebook’s network, Facebook’s own DNS servers would be unreachable—as would the missing application servers for Facebook-owned Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus VR.Jim Salter, “Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus are down. Here’s what we know [Updated]” at Ars Technica (October 4, 2021)
So no Facebook, Instagram, etc., for billions. During the uproar, the ever-inventive satire site, Babylon Bee, reported, “Hackers warn that if demands aren’t met they will reactivate Facebook.” Service was restored after some hours.
But surely the bigger lesson is that we are all too dependent on too few Really Big providers.
EU Competition Commissioner told Reuters “Facebook’s (FB.O) six-hour outage the previous day shows “the repercussions fn relying on just a few big players and underscores the need for more rivals.” One such newish player is Telegram, which fared spectacularly from Facebook’s misfortune:
Messaging app Telegram gained over 70 million new users during Monday’s Facebook (FB.O) outage, its founder Pavel Durov said on Tuesday, as people worldwide were left without key messaging services for nearly six hours…
“The daily growth rate of Telegram exceeded the norm by an order of magnitude, and we welcomed over 70 million refugees from other platforms in one day,” Durov wrote on his Telegram channel.
Durov said some users in the Americas may have experienced slower speeds as millions rushed to sign up at the same time, but that the service worked as usual for the majority.Alexander Marrow, Jan Harvey, “Telegram founder says over 70 mln new users joined during Facebook outage” at Reuters (October 5, 2021)
So what’s Telegram? According to its FAQ page,
With Telegram, you can send messages, photos, videos and files of any type (doc, zip, mp3, etc), as well as create groups for up to 200,000 people or channels for broadcasting to unlimited audiences. You can write to your phone contacts and find people by their usernames. As a result, Telegram is like SMS and email combined — and can take care of all your personal or business messaging needs. In addition to this, we support end-to-end encrypted voice and video calls, as well as voice chats in groups for thousands of participants.
According to TechCrunch, Telegram has 500 million active users, as of early this year. Its encryption is thought to be better than Facebook’s, though that could be a function of fewer hackers trying to break into a smaller trove of data for sale. Signal is similar, though much smaller at roughly 7.5 million users, with a major focus on privacy. Edward Snowden endorses it and he should know. But so do other, less controversial, notables.
Probably, the biggest single barrier to the growth of competitive social media is their smallness itself. Most people won’t join a new app until their friends do and they won’t join until their friends do. But mass outages at Big Social Media plus huge privacy hacks and growing concern over highhanded censorship are at least putting many more people in the mood for thinking about making the leap.
You may also wish to read:
Fallout from Facebook’s huge privacy hack: A serious Unfriending The Big Hack in April, in which even Mark Zuckerberg’s data got scraped, was hardly the first one Facebook faced. Apple CEO Tim Cook, rolling out new privacy and anti-tracking software, couldn’t resist the chance to get in a shot at Facebook.
Is Facebook anti-science or was that just a bad mood it was in? The curious case of the scientist who spoke up about possible misrepresentations of research points up the problem with Big Tech social media today. Stories like this shed light on why Florida’s DeSantis and Texas’s Abbott are concerned about social media billionaires’ attempted monopoly on information.
Can Texas win its fight with Big Social Media censorship? Engineering prof Karl D. Stephan notes that, currently, if a user is de-platformed from a large site such as Facebook, there are, famously, not a lot of alternatives. Texas’s HB 20 is a skirmish in the war over the right of free speech, which Big Tech increasingly wants to define for itself.