Everything you need to know about the Facebook outage

Boston University computer scientist explains what caused Facebook’s global shutdown and discusses its widespread impact

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By Molly Gluck

On October 4, Facebook and its Instagram and WhatsApp platforms experienced a gigantic global outage, preventing 3.5 billion users from interacting with friends and family, sharing information and sustaining their businesses. This is just the tip of the iceberg — according to Similarweb, WhatsApp is the most popular mobile messaging app in many of the world's most populous countries, and The New York Times illuminates how in some countries “Facebook is synonymous with the Internet.” Furthermore, three million businesses actively advertise on Facebook, and were left unable to reach, engage with and sell to customers for almost an entire work day.

Facebook has separately come under fire from whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former Facebook data scientist who gathered and shared documents that formed ‘The Facebook Files,’ a Wall Street Journal series that describes how Facebook “favors elites; how its algorithms foster discord; and how drug cartels and human traffickers use its services openly.”

So what really happened during the outage — and what is the scope of impact on an interpersonal and business level? We turned to Boston University computer science and engineering expert Gianluca Stringhini for answers.

What was the root cause of the global outage? Is there any chance that malicious activity played a role?

This outage marked the longest stretch of downtime for Facebook since 2008. How come the crash lasted so long, and could Facebook’s response have been faster/stronger?

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

With millions of businesses worldwide depending heavily on Facebook for paid and organic promotions, sales and revenue (translating to livelihood), is it reasonable for Facebook to hold all of the power? If not, how should this conglomerate be broken up?

What are your thoughts on ‘The Facebook Files’ report, given your research focus on malicious activity on the Internet? Do you have recommendations for Facebook to reduce its fundamental flaws which cause harm?

Gianluca Stringhini, Boston University

For additional commentary by Boston University experts, follow us on Twitter at @BUexperts. You can follow Gianluca Stringhini at @gianluca_string, Boston University College of Engineering at @BUCollegeofENG, Boston University Department of Computer Science at @BUCompSci and Boston University Hariri Institute for Computing at @BU_Computing on Twitter.