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InternetOctober 5, 2021

The day that Facebook and Instagram disappeared


Today’s outage was more than just a minor blip for New Zealanders who use social media platforms for work, life, and everything in between. Josie Adams reports for IRL

Chris Parker, comedian and major hat-wearer on Celebrity Treasure Island, has a well-honed lockdown morning routine: wake up, record a video, upload it to his Instagram, get a little serotonin boost, then make some breakfast. 

This morning, things were different. Facebook was down for over seven hours, taking Instagram and WhatsApp with it. All three went offline around 4am NZT, and came back by late morning, leaving billions of active users across the world in the lurch. “That initial serotonin boost was robbed from me,” Parker admits. He uploaded his morning video to TikTok instead.

For some like Parker, an outage like this is a relatively mild annoyance. For millions of people around the world that use WhatsApp to make calls and send messages, it all but shut down communications for the course of the outage. For people closer to home who work exclusively in social media, it impacted a crucial part of their jobs. 

Jess Moloney, founder and CEO of Auckland-based social media agency Moloney Moloney, noticed Facebook was down immediately. She was thrown, but her team knows what to do. “We have outages all the time, but the minute they’re global everyone pays attention to them,” she says. “Generally when these outages happen it’s a few hours before things come right.”

At Moloney Moloney, a social media outage means client management. “We’re always very cognisant of the fact that as a social media business we are reliant on the platforms,” she explains. “They belong to those companies, they don’t belong to the companies that have their advertising on them.”

This means she can spend a lot of time during an outage explaining that fixing the problem is out of her hands. “A lot of the work that we’re doing is just placating people and calming people down because we know it’s going to come back online,” she says. “We’ve seen this before.”

The last major outage she can remember was around Christmas 2019, when Facebook went down for around 24 hours. “I remember that we had something going out for one of our clients that we decided to push out on Twitter instead. And we basically just took their spend and applied it to a Twitter campaign instead.”

The outage had serious economic consequences for both Facebook and those who use it: Mark Zuckerberg is estimated to have (likely temporarily) lost $8.5 billion off his personal fortune as a result, and the platform loses $220,000 of advertising revenue each minute it’s out. However, those spending the advertising money aren’t getting that spend back, either.  

“The unfair thing here for clients and businesses that use these platforms is they don’t get any kind of compensation when these things happen,” says Moloney. “And that is a frustrating conversation to have with someone sometimes because, you know, if you buy a service or you use a service, you expect it to work.”

Chris Parker says his posting is more a creative pursuit than a financial one. He normally makes his living from television and touring, but with everyone stuck indoors, social media was a natural place to turn. “I consider myself a comedian who’s pivoted digitally,” he says. “I’m not really panicked [about the outage], I’m not like, ‘oh my gosh, my digital empire is crumbling’.”

Still, he has sympathy for those that felt the immediate loss and social disconnection of not having access to Facebook and Instagram this morning. “We’re so hard on ourselves. We can’t be face-to-face right now, so of course we’ve had to pivot being online.” He says there’s nothing wrong with missing the scroll for a few hours.

“For God’s sake, we’re in a pandemic. If Instagram and memes are the things that are bringing you joy, c’est la vie.”

Lucy Blakiston from Shit You Should Care About, who have over three million followers on Instagram, admits she was slow to encounter the outage. “I didn’t notice Instagram was down until I checked the news to start writing the newsletter,” she says. Clearly, her audience was feeling the effects; she got far more responses to said newsletter than on a normal morning. 

Although they are grateful for their following, Blakiston and her team have made sure their business is spread out across podcasts, Twitter, Discord, and a website as well. “I don’t want Zuckerberg to own everything,” she says. Moloney shares this perspective, advising her own clients to ask themselves “if my business was off social media for 24 hours, would I be able to survive?”

That means not just Zuckerberg-owned companies: they should be on Twitter, or TikTok, or anything else that might protect against a situation like this. “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Don’t put all your faces in one book,” she says. 

Blakiston acknowledges that the audience reach of Zuckerberg-owned platforms is mammoth, and that Shit You Should Care About could never speak to as many people without them. “But it’s not always the worst thing to not be reaching an extremely huge audience,” she concedes. “It would make my job a lot less scary.”

Finally, where does Blakiston think people should go the next time Zuck gets Zucked? Twitter,” she says. “But preferably they would have meaningful conversations with people in their lives.”

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