- Gabrielle Hendricks
Holding Facebook Accountable for Outage
Global economic losses, disruption in communication, big tech failure and non-transparency are the results of the 2021 Facebook outage. On Oct. 4, starting at 12 p.m. EST, Facebook had a global six-hour outage.
Along with Facebook being down for six hours, the tech giant’s other apps: Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus were down too. In total, 3.5 billion users of all the apps collectively were affected. Not only were users negatively affected, the engineers at Facebook also were in dismay as they could not access their own emails or buildings.
The first assumption that came to users’ minds was the possibility of a hack, especially as Facebook in the past had accusations of colluding with the Russians. Experts, however, have noted that a hack would not result in a global outage of sorts, especially one involving multiple apps. Facebook had stated that an internal update of the apps systems that went wrong caused the mass outage.
Considering the vast number of technology employees Facebook has and the revenue it receive from its various apps, a mass outage due to an update mistake is extremely irresponsible and shows the tech giant’s incompetence. Facebook has a responsibility to ensure that any changes to its servers do not drastically affect the safety and productivity of its users. It is deeply problematic that a company with such an immense amount of power and influence over the lives of half the world’s population would carelessly mishandle something as important as an internal update to multiple platforms.
This outage was not just a disruption of social media entertainment for people. This outage had extreme and dangerous consequences. Many people conduct business through Facebook on national and international levels. People who operate such online businesses missed out on six hours’ worth of revenue Depending on the scale of the business, that could be anywhere from hundreds to millions of dollars lost.
People also could not communicate with their friends, family members and even colleagues and clients. Tools such as Facebook Messenger, Instagram Direct Messenger and WhatsApp are important forms of communication for people. WhatsApp is a cheaper alternative to messenger services for international purposes. People in the Global South rely on WhatsApp to communicate as it is the only thing they can afford. Elderly people who do not pay for messenger apps rely on WhatsApp too to contact their caregivers and children. The lives of vulnerable people were at risk for danger because of Facebook’s carelessness.
The scary and shocking reality of half the world’s population dependency on Facebook and other forms of big tech was revealed through this outage. It is dangerous for society that companies like Facebook have such a massive role in the framework of the internet and global market. Facebook has shown itself to be unreliable and unconcerned with user safety before the outage, when exposed by whistle blower, Frances Haugen, just a day before the outage. Frances Haugen had alleged that Facebook knowingly amplified things such as hate speech, misinformation and marketed harmful products to teens.
Most millennial and Generation Z users without law or technology degrees could attest to these claims by simply seeing the content on Facebook and its other apps. Facebook not having the mental, physical and economic wellbeing of their customers as its top priority shows the greedy, capitalistic nature of the company.
The company credibility needs to be reassessed and examined by not just users but also by the government. Frances Haugen said, “Facebook chooses profit over safety.” The outage exemplified her quote perfectly. A company concerned with user safety would check all their bases and have the most ensured way of updating their tech without a global outage. Facebook should also be legally held to give its users who lost revenue or experienced danger from its outage as reparations. This will most likely not happen, however, due to Facebook’s status as a private company.
Laws around privatization of companies that are explicitly meant for the public should be analyzed in courts to avoid injustices on behalf of company failures and injuries to humanity. Facebook outage is a warning to the world of chaos that can ensue as a result of our heavy dependency on tech conglomerates.