Picture this: Whatsapp messages are not getting through, Instagram feeds are not loading, Wifi routers are being turned on and off again all around the world, people are wondering if their phones are broken, a case of FOMO and panic begins to settle in as thousands of people are flooding Twitter, all asking the same question: what the hell is going on?
This sounds like a bad apocalyptic episode from Black Mirror, but this actually happened on October 4th 2021. Facebook and all its subsidiaries went dark for a period of 6 hours. The biggest social media apps, Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook itself were inaccessible around the globe. The exact reason for the outage remained unclear, as Facebook would not release any information on the matter, besides that they were working on it. There are a couple of theories as to what happened, the most popular theory involving the interview that happened two days before with a whistleblower from Facebook. Others believe that the company was hacked and that people’s information was being sold on the dark web. Whatever you may believe the reason to be, the consequences from this outage was universal, and has made people realize just how dependent they are of social media and digital platforms in general.
One of the main consequences from the Facebook outage has to do with the subconscious attachment people have to a world with social media. If I’m being honest, I did not realize just how addicted I was to Instagram and Facebook (and by extension other forms of social media platforms) until it came to a point where I was losing patience when something did not load, or I was finding myself constantly checking my phone to see if my messages went through or if someone was able to get a post through. And I think a lot of people are not fully aware of their psychological attachment to the virtual world. Of course, we are not completely oblivious about the hold that social media has on us, but we’ve never collectively acknowledge the severity of our obsession. In fact, we’ve even convinced ourselves to an extent that we are not like those “social media junkies”. On twitter, some people have even expressed how Facebook should stay down, that way people could interact with each other face to face, “like the good old days”. Ironically, I think even those people are just as obsessed as the rest of us. Going back to my point though, for the 6 hours that Facebook was down, people were forced to not look at their phone as much and to at least find something else to do until everything was back to normal. This of course, caused a bit of an uneasy feeling in people. We are so used to having so much information shared with us all the time, and for those 6 hours where almost nothing was being shared anymore, it seemed as though we lost a sense of direction. And what happens when a large group of people feel like they have no direction? They start looking for another source. On that dark day of October 4th, this “other” source was Twitter. As I’ve mentioned, Twitter was flooded with million of users using the platform simultaneously, and this did not go unnoticed by headquarters. As a welcome to almost every one on the internet, Twitter released a simple, cheeky tweet, acknowledging the lost souls floating around, waiting:
Another notable consequence of the outage had to do with people’s businesses. In a world were social media influencers, content creators and online retail stores rely heavily on Instagram posts and online interaction for monetary gain, this outage posed as a threat to these people’s livelihood. What’s more, even Facebook employees couldn’t access their systems, send emails or even enter their office buildings. Over the last couple of years, social media platforms had gradually had a major influence on the economy. I guess we were lucky that this outage only lasted for a couple of hours, but imagine how much money people could have lost if Facebook went down for a much longer period of time or even forever.
On the surface, this entire ordeal may have seemed like just an inconvenience, but it has also inspired us to look more closely at the psychological, economical and social impact these platforms have. Users on twitter have created so many memes about the entire fiasco, which has helped to ease the tension a bit, but I still think about how serious this was, and how much more serious it could have gotten. I think we need to start asking ourselves the big question: What would happen to our society if social media vanished completely? Would we be capable to move on effectively?