Published: 05th October 2021
What the FAQ: Why did Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram go down for hours on October 4?
The outage came as Facebook was amidst yet another controversy where a whistleblower has accused the company of repeatedly prioritising profit over clamping down on hate speech and misinformation
In several countries, Facebook is synonymous with the whole internet and WhatsApp has managed to make its way into the lives of three generations, starting with the grandparents. So one can imagine the chaos it may have caused when it remained unfunctional, along with Instagram, for several hours of October 4.
How did this happen?
The outage was limited to Facebook-owned platforms. According to Cloudflare which had its own recent internet outage issues, the outage was all about the things that make up every other website on the internet – the Domain Name System (DNS) and Border Gateway Protocol (BGP).
Since the internet is a set of a lot of connected networks, one needs BGP to keep things running. BGP tells the website where it needs to go. DNS is the address system for the location of each website, its IP address. BGP is the roadmap that finds the best way to get to that IP address.
Cloudflare further added that the outage was caused as Facebook told BGP through a series of updates that those paths to Facebook no longer existed. But this was not just limited to the flagship product — Facebook — but everything that the company runs. This translated into lost people, which means, that people trying to reach Facebook couldn’t find the path to access it.
How many people did it affect?
Outage tracking website Downdetector.com said it had received 10.6 million reports of problems from the United States and Europe to Colombia and Singapore. It said the trouble started at about 15:45 GMT (21:15 pm IST). This was the largest outage that Facebook-product users have experienced, and there are about two billion people using WhatsApp and Facebook while Instagram has about a billion and a half.
Facebook-owned platforms are not just used in a personal capacity but several small businesses, entrepreneurs use them — the outage impacted all of them in different parts of the world. The stores, restaurants and delivery services that depend on Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram lost money on Monday, the New York Times reported.
Has this happened before?
We all know that technology glitches happen, even with big corporations such as Facebook. However, the recent outage was highly unusual. Facebook’s last such outage was in 2019 when a technical error affected its sites for 24 hours. Facebook's official statement back then was that the outage was due to a “server configuration change” which had a cascading effect through the company’s network.
What has the company said now?
In a statement on Tuesday, Facebook said that the faulty configuration change affected the company's internal tools and systems which complicated attempts to resolve the problem. It is interesting that the company felt the need to clarify that there was no evidence that user data was compromised during this outage. The outage came as Facebook was amidst yet another controversy where a whistleblower has accused the company of repeatedly prioritising profit over clamping down on hate speech and misinformation.