What Happened to FB

October 4, 2021

“Couldn’t Refresh Feed”

One of the most significant outages in Facebook's history comes after a tumultuous week and a whistleblower report warning of danger ahead.

“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.”

Facebook’s VP of infrastructure, Santosh Janardhan, on why the company’s 3 billion users lost access to FB, Instagram and WhatsApp. Facebook also lost “internal tools and systems we use in our day-to-day operations.” The New York Times reported digital passes allowing employees into different areas of the company, including servers, stopped working. This delayed resolution.

The Latest:

  • Facebook lost operations around 10:40 a.m. CT and regained function by the evening.
  • This outage paralyzed the company because some workers could not even physically access the servers to reset them (NYT).
  • Context: In 2008 & 2019, Facebook experienced outages for a period of time.
  • With each passing year, Facebook gains more users and becomes more ingrained in society and business operations. Arguably, as it grows, the ripple effects of an outage become more impactful.
“Today’s outage brought our reliance on Facebook — and its properties like WhatsApp and Instagram — into sharp relief."

Professor Brooke Erin Duffy, Cornell University, who focuses on media, culture and technology. Prof. Duffy went on to say that Facebook’s outage “highlights the staggering level of precarity” for our “work economy.” Facebook alone lost roughly $100 million dollars in revenue during the outage; estimates of the ripple effects remain TBD.

Meanwhile …

  • Facebook faces allegations of purposefully harming the public for profit, lying about it and illegally withholding information from investors.
  • A whistleblower, first identified Sunday night on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” filed several federal complaints. Her interview aired less than 24 hours before the outage.
  • She also leaked internal documents to The Wall Street Journal. This research reflects what Facebook knows about their platform and its impact on young adults.
"… if they change the algorithm to be safer, people will spend less time on the site, they'll click on less ads, they'll make less money."

Former Facebook employee Frances Haugen alleging how FB capitalizes on harmful content: “When we live in an information environment that is full of angry, hateful, polarizing content it erodes our civic trust, it erodes our faith in each other, it erodes our ability to want to care for each other, the version of Facebook that exists today is tearing our societies apart and causing ethnic violence around the world.”

"You see the good, the bad, and the ugly of humanity show up on our platform as well. Our job is to mitigate the bad, reduce it and amplify the good."

VP of Global Affairs Nick Clegg in response to allegations about the potential harm caused by Facebook on young people specifically and the research the company did examining its own impact on young adults. Clegg says the company is “not pretending that everything is perfect” but investing in learning how to be better stewards of their platform.

The whistleblower says Facebook is “paying for its profits with our safety” but also says breaking up the company will not solve the problem. She will testify before a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday. Facebook says it has to balance protecting free speech with monitoring its platform.

What do you think about this story? Is there a Facebook problem?

Here’s the 60 Minutes Interview

Here’s a link to Facebook’s “Update about the October 4th outage

Gone in Minutes, Out for Hours: Outage Shakes Facebook (New York Times)

Facebook’s outage cost the company nearly $100 million in revenue (Fortune)

Whistle-Blower Says Facebook ‘Chooses Profits Over Safety’ (New York Times)

by Jenna Lee,