Facebook crashed – and then chaos.
Key employees had to manually reset equipment as conspiracies swirled about what caused the social media giant to go offline for hours on Monday.
Twitter posted on its site: “hello literally everyone.”
The problems came a day after former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen appeared on CBS’ “60 Minutes” and accused the company of choosing profit over removing hate speech. The platform and its apps – WhatsApp, Messenger, Oculus and Instagram – experienced a global five-hour outage that began Monday morning.
With 3 billion users, Facebook outages are nearly impossible to avoid, said Stuart Steiner with Eastern Washington University’s Center for Network Computing and Cyber Security. But they usually only last an hour or two.
“Today is a different story,” Steiner said. “What I’m reading is they had such a catastrophe that they had to send people to their server farm somewhere in California, so they could not do it remotely. Most of the time you can log into the system with a PC and do stuff remotely, but in this case you could not.”
Employees scrambled to “debug and restore” the systems, said a tweet from Mike Schroepfer, a Facebook spokesman.
As the system flickered online, Facebook tweeted: “To the huge community of people and businesses around the world who depend on us: we’re sorry. We’ve been working hard to restore access to our apps and services and are happy to report they are coming back online now. Thank you for bearing with us.”
The cause remained unclear Monday afternoon, though two members of Facebook’s security team told the New York Times a hacker was not likely behind the outage.
For small businesses, just five hours without Instagram and Facebook affected the ability to reach customers, said Bill Powers, marketing manager at Brick West Brewing Company. While it was not a devastating loss, the brewery had an event Monday night that Powers found himself unable to promote during the outage.
“When we can’t tell people about an event or promotion, it can definitely hurt attendance,” Powers said. “Facebook and Instagram are pretty integral to small businesses.”
Brick West sees most of its engagement on Instagram, Powers said. A well-designed visual feed can build a company’s image by showing the culture happening inside, he said.
“If you can build a community on social media that engages people, you’re building a customer base,” Powers said.
Steiner said once the sites went down, no hacker could get into it. That’s not to dismiss the possibility a hacker caused the initial equipment failure, he said. Also, if rumors prove true that parts of Facebook’s code were lost, Steiner said it could delay the platform’s return – and it could limit the app’s services.
“No company will ever give the true details … But I would love to really know what really happened. I think the American people would like to know what happened,” he said, adding Facebook has a history of choosing “revenue dollars over privacy.”
In a Wall Street Journal story last month and on “60 Minutes” Sunday evening, Haugen said Facebook was bad at removing hate speech and disinformation, and its own data proved it.
Accusations against the platform’s ethics are not new, but using Facebook’s own data as evidence sharpened Haugen’s claims.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in an August CBS interview that the company beefed up its efforts to remove hate speech; in 2021 so far the company reportedly removed about 50 million content items matching the definition of hate speech.
“If we see harmful misinformation on the platform, then we take it down. It’s against our policy,” Zuckerberg told “CBS This Morning.” “But do we catch everything? Of course there are mistakes that we make or areas where we need to improve. But that’s the best number that we have in terms of what we’ve seen and what our systems have been able to detect.”
In 2017, the platform apologized for its uneven enforcement of comment moderation.
In 2018, 14 million users had their gender, location histories and relationship statuses exposed in a data breach.
In 2019, federal prosecutors opened an investigation into Facebook’s deals with 150 other companies who gained access to user data.
The last significant Facebook outage was in 2019 when the platform went down for 24 hours, the New York Times reported.
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