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Monday, November 29, 2021

Panic as social media crash

By Saheed Ibrahim

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– We thought our phones were faulty _ Nigerians
– Facebook owner lost $6 billion, drops to 5th richest person _ Bloomberg
– Crash caused by faulty configuration change, users’ data safe _ Facebook
– Facebook prioritises profits over safety _ Whistleblower

The world was almost on standstill on Monday evening as three major social media platforms suddenly crashed.
According to DownDetector, a site which monitors reports of outages using a variety of different sources, the issues started at around 4:44pm and affected users globally, as people reported being unable to access or send messages through the platforms either on their computers or smartphones.
The affected digital platforms are owned by one of the world’s youngest Billionnaires, Mark Zuckerberg and they are Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.
For more than five hours, the world overwhelming dependence on social media was exposed and threatened.
No doubt, the social media platforms, especially Facebook and WhatsApp, have revolutionised how we interact, transact businesses, learn, share ideas and learn about other cultures but these were brought to a halt for several hours.
The social media are the reality to the prediction of Marshal McLuhan that a time would come that the world would be a global village and everyone would seem present in a single room.
As at the beginning of this month, if Facebook were to be a country, it would be the largest in the world. According to Statista, Facebook has about 2.89 billion monthly active users while WhatsApp has about 2 billion users.
In Nigeria, Statista reports that there are currently about 43 million active social media users and this figure is projected to grow to 103 million in 2026.
WhatsApp is the most popular platform used in the country, with 93% of internet users on the digital platform. 86% use Facebook while 81% use YouTube. Instagram, Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Telegram and LinkedIn follow respectively.
These statistics show the enormous influence the social media platforms have on human existence, hence, the panic and anxiety that followed the unfortunate crash on Monday
Immediately the platforms went offline, Twitter was used to communicate with users, giving them assurance that normalcy would be restored.
WhatsApp tweeted, that they are aware some people are experiencing issues with WhatsApp at the moment and they are working to get things back to normal and will send an update here as soon as possible.
Facebook also tweeted, “we are aware that some people are having trouble accessing our apps and products. We are working to get things back to normal as quickly as possible, and we apologize for any inconvenience.”
In the same vein, Instagram, through its Twitter handle, @InstagramComms announced that “Instagram and friends are having a little bit of a hard time right now, and you may be having issues using them. Bear with us, we are on it! #instagramdown.
Unfortunately, the Federal Government’s ban on Twitter was still on (and also as at the time of filing this report). So, Nigerians had no access to Twitter to know what was going on.
As the wait for the social media platforms to come online was on, many Nigerians had begun to panic. While some thought it was their phones that was faulty, others blamed network service provider.
Funny, some publicly posted on Twitter and other available social media platforms that “they thought the world has ended”.
Frustration, funny moments and reactions were shared on social media platforms after the unfortunate incident.
Some Nigerians shared their over 5 hours of disconnection, anxiety and frustration with The Hope.
According to a dry cleaner, Tope Sheriff, “I thought my phone was faulty. So I rebooted it but did not work and after doing that several times, I concluded that my phone was faulty. It was when I got a message from Jiji I got to know that something was wrong with WhatsApp and Facebook”.
Similarly, a fashion designer, Miss Rokibat Adeola said she thought it was her phone but restarting the device did not solve the problem. She said she was not calm until some of her friends started calling her to report same frustration.
“I put it off and on but to my surprise it was still the same. Then, someone called me and asked what happen to WhatsApp? I first said thank God it was not only me and before I left work, at least 6 people have complained. That was when I relaxed my mind, she narrated to The Hope.
“I restarted my phone like 10 times before knowing. Bro Sunday was even telling me to use his phone hotspot. No b small thing yesterday”, Lekan Adebowale an IT expert said.
As for Mr Bidemi Sunday, who is a businessman, “I had thought the world has ended. Incidentally, I did not hear anybody around. My phone network was also down, so I could not make any call.
“I was really scared. It was after the whole drama I was calm. I never believed a day like this would come that we will not communicate at all”.
In Zimbabwe, Human Right Advocate, Monalisa Magoche shared that she was so frustrated that she had to delete all her files, thinking it was the phone that needed some space. She told The Hope it was after she got the information about social media crash that she regretted her action.
What caused the breakdown?
According to a statement released by Facebook, “A faulty configuration change” on its routers was believed to be at the centre of the outage.
“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.
“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.”
Facebook noted that the organisation was working to make its infrastructures more resilient.
A report by an international business and market news source, Bloomberg, on the World’s Billionnaires index, shows that Zuckerberg lost about $6 billion within the hours Facebook crashed, dropping him to 5th wealthiest person in the world after Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Bernard Arnault and Bill Gates.
The report says: “Mark Zuckerbergs personal wealth has fallen by more than $6 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 Inc.s flagship products offline.
“A selloff sent the social-media giants stock plummeting 4.9% on Monday, adding to a drop of about 15% since mid-September.
“The stock slide on Monday sent Zuckerbergs worth down to $121.6 billion, dropping him below Bill Gates to No. 5 on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He’s down from almost $140 billion in a matter of weeks, according to the index”.
A report on CBS News has it that a Facebook Whistleblower and former employee of the organisation, Frances Haugen, said Facebook was aware of the problem before the crash but the organisation put profit over users’ safety.
“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 optimize for its own interests, like making more money”, the 37 years old data scientist alleged.
Haugen, who has a Master Degree from Harvard and former employee of Google and Pinterest added that “I have seen a bunch of social network but it was substantially worse at Facebook than anything I have seen before”.
She alleged that Facebook promotes hate, violence and misinformation
In response, Facebook emphasized that the issues facing its products, including political polarization, were complex and not caused by technology alone.
According to Facebook Vice President, Nick Clegg, while speaking on CNN, “I think it gives people comfort to assume that there must be a technological or a technical explanation for the issues of political polarization in the United States.”
A statement from Facebook’s Director of Policy Communications, Lena Pietsch reads: “Every day our teams have to balance protecting the right of billions of people to express themselves openly with the need to keep our platform a safe and positive place.
“We continue to make significant improvements to tackle the spread of misinformation and harmful content. To suggest we encourage bad content and do nothing is just not true.”
Pietsch said Facebook would not tolerate misinformation, hate and violence, with heavy investments to ensure the platform and its sister platforms (Instagram and WhatsApp) are safe for users.
Normalcy was restored to the three digital platforms around midnight on Tuesday.

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