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No data compromised in massive global outage, says Facebook

Read time 4min 30sec

Social media giant Facebook has blamed misconfiguration changes for the massive global blackout the company’s platforms experienced yesterday.

It also moved to assure no customer data was compromised during the outage, which also affected South African users.

Popular social media platforms Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp were down for about six hours yesterday, leaving billions of users across the globe frustrated.

Following the outage, CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted on Facebook, saying: “Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger are coming back online now. Sorry for the disruption today – I know how much you rely on our services to stay connected with the people you care about.”

In a blog post, Santosh Janardhan, Facebook vice-president of infrastructure, says: “To all the people and businesses around the world who depend on us, we are sorry for the inconvenience caused by today’s outage across our platforms.

“We’ve been working as hard as we can to restore access, and our systems are now back up and running.”

According to Janardhan, the underlying cause of this outage also impacted many of the internal tools and systems the company uses in its day-to-day operations, complicating attempts to quickly diagnose and resolve the problem.

“Our engineering teams have learned that configuration changes on the backbone routers that coordinate network traffic between our data centres caused issues that interrupted this communication. This disruption to network traffic had a cascading effect on the way our data centres communicate, bringing our services to a halt.

“Our services are now back online and we’re actively working to fully return them to regular operations. We want to make clear at this time we believe the root cause of this outage was a faulty configuration change. We also have no evidence that user data was compromised as a result of this downtime,” Janardhan says.

He points out that people and businesses around the world rely on the Facebook platforms every day to stay connected.

“We understand the impact outages like these have on people’s lives, and our responsibility to keep people informed about disruptions to our services. We apologise to all those affected, and we’re working to understand more about what happened today, so we can continue to make our infrastructure more resilient.”

With roughly 2.89 billion monthly active users as of the second quarter of 2021, Facebook is the biggest social network worldwide, says Statista.

It adds that Instagram has roughly one billion users globally. As of July 2021, Statista says, two billion users were accessing the WhatsApp messenger on a monthly basis.

As services got back to normal, messaging app WhatsApp took to Twitter to post: “We’re now back and running at 100%. Thank you to everyone around the world today for your patience while our teams worked diligently to restore WhatsApp. We truly appreciate you and continue to be humbled by how much people and organisations rely on our app every day.”

Using the same platform, Instagram tweeted: “Instagram is slowly but surely coming back now – thanks for dealing with us and sorry for the wait!”

However, users were left fuming after the outage. Below are some of the comments from users responding to the company’s apology:

“@Facebook I've lost thousands of money will your sorry help me anything?”

“@Facebook Facebook must compensate WhatsApp users around the world $50 000 minimum.”

“Yeah, just a propaganda trick that’s all. What a coincidence within 24 hours the whistleblower opens up, all FB platforms miraculously go down. Headlines not gonna be the whistleblower anymore huh?” [sic]

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that Mark Zuckerberg's personal wealth fell by nearly $7 billion in a few hours, knocking him down a notch on the list of the world's richest people, after a whistleblower came forward and outages took Facebook's flagship products offline.

It says on 13 September, the Wall Street Journal began publishing a series of stories based on a cache of internal documents, revealing Facebook knew about a wide range of problems with its products – such as Instagram’s harm to teenage girls’ mental health and misinformation about the 6 January Capitol riots – while downplaying the issues in public.

The reports have drawn the attention of government officials, and on Monday, the whistleblower revealed herself as Frances Haugen.

According to CNN, the 37-year-old former Facebook product manager, who worked on civic integrity issues at the company, says the documents show Facebook knows its platforms are used to spread hate, violence and misinformation, and has tried to hide that evidence.

“The thing I saw at Facebook over and over again was there were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook, and Facebook over and over again chose to optimise for its own interests, like making more money,” Haugen told 60 Minutes.

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