Six-hour blackout shows just how vital Facebook has become in the world


The six-hour outage on Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp has been a headache for many casual users, but far more serious for the millions of people around the world who depend on social media sites to run their businesses or communicate with parents, colleagues, parents, teachers or neighbors. .

When all three services went dark on Monday, it was a stark reminder of the power and reach of Facebook, which owns the photo-sharing and messaging apps.

All over the world, the WhatsApp crash has left a lot of people lost. In Brazil, the messaging service is by far the most used application in the country, installed on 99% of smartphones, according to technology pollster Mobile Time.

WhatsApp has become essential in Brazil for communicating with friends and family, as well as for various other tasks, such as ordering food. Offices, various departments and even courts are struggling to make appointments and the phone lines are overwhelmed.

Hundreds of thousands of Haitians in their home countries and abroad have expressed concern over the WhatsApp outage.

Many of the nation’s more than 11 million people depend on it to alert each other to gang violence in particular neighborhoods or to talk to relatives in the United States about money transfers and other important matters. Haitian migrants traveling to the United States rely on him to find each other or share key information such as safe places to sleep.

Nelzy Mireille, a 35-year-old unemployed woman who relies on money sent from relatives overseas, said she stopped at a repair shop in the capital Port-au-Prince because she believed that his phone was malfunctioning. “I was waiting for confirmation of a money transfer from my cousin,” she said. “I was so frustrated.”

“I couldn’t hear my love,” complains Wilkens Bourgogne, 28, referring to his partner, who was in the neighboring Dominican Republic, buying goods to bring back to Haiti. He said he was concerned for his safety due to the violence in their home country.

“The insecurity worries everyone,” he said.

Disrupt communication

In rebel-held Syria, where the telecommunications infrastructure has been disrupted by war, locals and relief workers rely primarily on internet communication.

Naser AlMuhawish, a Turkey-based Syrian doctor who monitors coronavirus cases in rebel-controlled territory in Syria, said WhatsApp is the primary method of communication used with more than 500 field workers.

They switched to Skype, but WhatsApp works best when internet service is unstable, he said. If there had been an emergency such as a bombardment that he needed to warn workers on the ground, there could have been major problems, he said.

“Fortunately, that didn’t happen yesterday during the blackout,” he said.

But hospitals treating COVID-19 patients in the region have been in panic. They have lost contact with oxygen providers who do not have a fixed location and are normally reachable via WhatsApp. A hospital sent a staff member to get oxygen at nearly two dozen facilities, said Dr Fadi Hakim of the Syrian American Medical Society.

In Lima, Peru, the blackout made it difficult for dental technician Mary Mejia to work. Like most Peruvian medical workers, she uses WhatsApp for a multitude of tasks, including scheduling appointments and ordering crowns.

“Sometimes the doctor is working on a patient and I have to contact a technician for a job,” she said. “To have to walk away and make a phone call?” It makes us stumble. We have become so used to this tool.

Millions of Africans use WhatsApp for all of their voice calls, so “people felt cut off from the world,” said Mark Tinka, a Ugandan who heads engineering at SEACOM, a South Africa-based internet infrastructure company. .

Many Africans also use WhatsApp to connect with relatives in other countries. Tinka’s daughter-in-law lives in Caldwell, Idaho, and lost her father on Sunday, but was unable to speak with her family in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, to arrange travel for the funeral.

“It’s amazing how little people understand the impact of three or four content companies on the usefulness of the Internet,” Tinka said.

Facebook said the outage was due to an internal error related to a “configuration change,” but gave no details.

The outage came amid a crisis on Facebook, accused by a whistleblower on “60 Minutes” and Capitol Hill of profiting from hatred and division and removing research showing Instagram contributes to image problems body, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts in young women. .

Small businesses lose revenue

For small businesses, outages meant hundreds or thousands of dollars in lost revenue.

Sarah Murdoch runs a small Seattle-based travel agency called Adventures with Sarah and relies on Facebook Live videos to promote her tours. She estimated that the outage cost her thousands of dollars in reservations.

“I’ve tried other platforms because I’m wary of Facebook, but none of them are as powerful for the type of content I create,” Murdoch said. As for his losses, “maybe it’s just a few people, but we’re small enough that it hurts.”

Heather Rader runs How Charming Photography in Linton, Indiana. She takes photos for schools and sports teams and makes yard signs with the photos. She has her own website, but said parents and other clients mainly try to reach her through social media.

She said she might have lost three or four reservations for photoshoots at $ 200 per client.

“A lot of people only have a specific window when they can make orders and reservations and things like that,” she said. “If they can’t get a direct answer, they go to someone else.

Tarita Carnduff of Alberta, Canada, said she connects with other parents on Facebook pretty much every day, and the blackout made her realize how crucial that support is.

“As a parent with children with special needs, this is the only space I have found others in similar positions,” she said. “Many of us would be lost without it.”

But for others, the outage led them to conclude that they needed Facebook less in their lives.

Anne Vydra said she realized she was spending too much free time scrolling through and commenting on posts she disagreed with. She deleted the Facebook app on Tuesday. “I didn’t want this to come back,” said Vydra, who lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and does voiceover work. She added: “I realized how much my time was wasted.”

PA reporters Sarah El Deeb in Beirut; Evens Sanon in Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Diane Jeantet in Rio de Janeiro; Débora Álvares in Brasilia, Brazil; Joseph Pisani and Tali Arbel in New York; and Frank Bajak in Boston contributed to this report.


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