Our take: Phansi #Facebook, Phansi

On Monday some 3.6 billion people around the globe faced a modern-day catastrophe… 😱 The internet was broken!

Okay, maybe not the whole internet, but its equivalent, Facebook – which is synonymous with the internet in some Asian countries. The mega social media platform and two of the other apps it owns, Instagram and WhatsApp, had a huge technical “oopsie” at its California, US headquarters. The resulting global outage lasted about six hours, from around 5:40pm our time. 

Experts said this was akin to Facebook falling off the internet’s map.

The outage had devastating effects on those who rely on these social media platforms for their livelihoods. 

As one start-up owner put it: “It may not sound like a lot to others, but missing out on four or five hours of sales could be the difference between paying the electricity bill or rent for the month.”

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg lost $7 billion – not a HUGE amount for someone who has a net worth of about $119 billion, but a bit of a blow nonetheless. 

WhatsApp rivals Telegram and Signal reported a sharp increase in new users. Twitter even warmly welcomed “literally everyone”, which prompted hilarious memes. Our favourites include: “With instagram down, influencers are going to have to go door to door making teenage girls feel like shit about themselves” and “More like The Social Notwork”. 🤭

The outage did more than force us to confront our relationship with social media. It also came amid mounting difficulties for Facebook. 

Last week, we told you how a whistleblower blew the lid on Facebook’s dirty tricks to prioritise profits over people’s safety, in The Wall Street Journal. This week she revealed her identity: she’s Frances Haugen, a data scientist who worked on the company’s civic integrity team. In an interview with CBS, she said Facebook manipulated its algorithms to sometimes show more negative content, in a bid to keep users on the site longer. She also said Facebook intends to target younger users to stay relevant and to…survive.😕

Her revelation that the company buried research about Instagram’s harmful effects on teens’ mental health prompted a subcommittee hearing last week in the US Senate, which slammed Facebook’s safety chief for failing to protect children.

Facebook is also facing an upcoming landmark antitrust case from the US’s Federal Trade Commission. 

The commission, which is a bit like SA’s Competition Commission, wants to force Facebook to restructure or to sell off assets including Instagram and WhatsApp. These were independently successful companies that Facebook was threatened by and bought out.  

The larger issue here is whether Facebook’s owners should be allowed to control SO much of the internet, which practically half the world is reliant on. We agree with US lawmakers: time to break them up. 

This article appeared as part of The Wrap, 7 October 2021. Sign up to receive our weekly updates.