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PHD Digital Newsletter: The Great Facebook Outage

Last week, on 13th March, Facebook and other Facebook-owned platforms encountered its worst outage in the company’s 15-year history. Users of Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger across the world were unable to access the platforms for at least 15 hours, with little to no explanation from the businesses themselves. With over 2 billion people using their family of applications every day, it’s safe to say it didn’t go unnoticed…

Users in the UK started noticing platforms going offline around 3pm GMT last Wednesday, with various news outlets still reporting on the outages the following morning. Many turned to the last remaining popular social media platform, Twitter, to vent their frustration – and speculate.

While Instagram issued a short tweet apologising for the outage – and another to announce its return – parent company Facebook remained fairly tight-lipped throughout the outage. Aside from a single tweet in the initial hours, the relative silence from internet giant Facebook quickly lead users and media outlets to speculate on the possibility of the cause of the outage being a DDoS attack.

What is a DDoS attack? Standing for ‘distributed denial-of-service’, a DDoS attack is “a malicious attempt to disrupt normal traffic of a targeted server, service or network by overwhelming the target or its surrounding infrastructure with a flood of Internet traffic” (Source: http://bit.ly/2Tk51TW/). The motivation behind conducting a DDoS attack could be anything from extortion, to politics, to plain vandalism. With previous high-profile DDoS attack victims including companies such as GitHub, Deezer, Evernote and Bank of America, there was every possibility that Facebook could have been under attack.

Likely noticing the rumour mill surrounding the outage going into overdrive on Twitter, Facebook issued their second statement:

Facebook then dipped back into silence for over 21 hours, not providing another statement until well after the service had returned. But what happened to Facebook’s business during this downtime?

Instant messaging application Telegram – some may say not too dissimilar from WhatsApp – gained 3 MILLION new users in the 24 hours around the Facebook outage. As users were left without the world’s two biggest messaging applications in WhatsApp and Messenger, they jumped ship to this upcoming alternative. An outage of this severity will have damaged user’s trust in the Facebook brand, and some of those users that switched to Telegram may never return.

Unfortunately, not three days later Telegram encountered a pretty big blunder when they temporarily deleted at least 70,000 users’ accounts. Whoops!

Facebook’s final (and only) comment on the outage was to explain it being due to a server configuration. While there’s no official figures to show just how much money Facebook lost during its outage, we know that they take tens of millions of dollars in advertising revenue each day.

With no platform for adverts to run on for at least 15 hours, we can only imagine the hit they took. By Thursday, the morning following the outage, Facebook’s shares were down more than 1.8%.

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