I sensed that something was wrong. I felt it “in my water”, as my mum tends to say when retrospectively claiming psychic powers that she doesn’t possess. But this definitely wasn’t right. My Facebook news feed had had the same post at the top for nearly 15 minutes, something unheard of in the modern era: it consisted of my friend Dan bemoaning how he felt “disassociated and paranoid, paralysed by memories of failure”. I needed cheering up a bit. I tentatively tried sending a sticker to my pal Charlotte featuring an anthropomorphised egg waving “Good Morning!”. It remained undelivered. This was serious.
Shifting my gaze to Twitter, it became evident what the problem was. Facebook was broken. It wasn’t just me; it wasn’t working for anyone. This was a major international outage of the world’s most popular social networking platform, with more than 1.25 billion monthly users, and as such this was evidently big news.
Liveblogs were set up by news organisations to document the ongoing problem. With no information as to when the site might be bump-started back to life, stocks in Facebook fell by 0.8 per cent. However, reassured that this wasn’t our problem and that it was Facebook’s, people began to mock the event as inconsequential. “I need to know if my aunt has reached Level 130 of Candy Crush Saga,” I tweeted, aware that sarcasm is one of social media’s favourite forms of wit.
I cast my mind back to the last major Facebook outage in 2010, when the site disappeared for more than two hours. That day, my friend Jo posted a tweet that went viral: “Facebook users are roaming the streets in tears, shoving photos of themselves in people’s faces and screaming ‘DO YOU LIKE THIS? DO YOU??’” It’s a pretty good joke, and four years on people started posting it again, sneakily passing it off as their own work. Even KitKat got in on the Twitter gagwagon, using its “have a break” slogan to point out Facebook’s unexpected downtime.
10 facts you didn’t know about Facebook
10 facts you didn’t know about Facebook
Around 350 million photos are uploaded to Facebook every day, with the site estimating in September last year that users had so far put up more than 250 billion images. That’s 4,000 photos uploaded every second and around 4 per cent of all photos ever taken, according to a study by Nokia.
Facebook’s logo is blue because Mark Zuckerberg is red-green colour blind. “Blue is the richest color for me. I can see all of blue," said Zuckerberg in an interview with the New Yorker. The colour is so popular that Facebook’s campus store even sells nail polish in the exact shade named ‘social butterfly blue’.
Zuckerberg's famously low-key wardrobe (either a grey t-shirt or a hoodie) is so that the CEO saves time deciding what to wear each day. However, Zuckerberg is known to dress up when the occasion demands it. For a 2011 event with Barack Obama he showed up in a suit, with the president introducing himself by saying: “I’m Barack Obama and I’m the guy who got Mark to wear a jacket and tie.”
In July 2006 Zuckerberg turned down a $1 billion offer for the site from Yahoo. He was 22 years old at the time and owned 25 per cent of the company. Zuckerberg reportedly turned it down by saying “I don't know what I could do with the money. I'd just start another social networking site. I kind of like the one I already have.” He definitely made the right choice: Facebook is now valued at $135 billion.
A YouGov poll claimed that three-quarter of UK Facebook users' photos showed someone drinking or inebriated. However, the poll did ask users to estimate the number of boozy snaps themselves, and like all things on Facebook, there might have been an element of exaggeration involved.
Facebook operates a bounty hunter program – for bugs. Like many other big technology companies Facebook offers cash rewards to security researchers who point out flaws in the site’s code. The minimum payout is $500 and the largest prize to date has been $33,500.
More than a third of divorce filings in 2011 referenced Facebook, said a survey from UK-based legal firm Divorce Online. The exact figures may be an estimate, but with just under 8 trillion Facebook messages sent in 2013 it’s certain that a substantial body of evidence is to be found on the social network.
Zuckerberg isn’t much of a Twitter fan. Despite having nearly three hundred thousand followers on the service he’s only tweeted 19 times - once in 2012 and the rest in 2009. Although Facebook dwarfs twitter in terms of active users (1 billion compared with 200 million by some accounts) the micro-blogging site handles breaking news better. Facebook has introduced trending topics and hashtags to counter this.
Following the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009 Iceland decided to rewrite their constitution using Facebook to solicit suggestions from citizens. Unfortunately, despite this forward thinking approach, the document was killed by politicians in mid-2013 for various (mostly technical) reasons.
You can browse Facebook upside down. Facebook currently supports more than 70 different languages – including English (Pirate) and English (Upside Down). Check the bottom of the column on the right of your newsfeed and click your current language to change!
But as we mocked Facebook’s meaninglessness, we knew deep down that we were mocking ourselves. Many of us have developed habit-forming social media routines, and, while we may not be proud of them, they frequently deliver plenty of diverting, amusing or enlightening material. So, as we laughed knowingly at the jokes, we simultaneously refreshed Facebook to see when it might be back.
Even those who spurn Facebook would reluctantly have to acknowledge that it occupies a pivotal position on the web. Many people’s consumption of news is dictated by the stories that their friends share on Facebook; with that service unavailable, traffic to some news websites slumped. Technology website Techcrunch, while jokily pondering when we could “get back to ‘liking’ baby photos”, omitted to mention that its comments section is powered entirely by Facebook and wasn’t working. Virgin Media posted a tweet acknowledging the problem as it started to receive support requests from people who use Facebook as a portal. For those people, Facebook equals the internet. The web-savvy may mock, but that’s not necessarily an indicator of stupidity or short-sightedness; it’s just how people have chosen to use the resource they’ve been given. Far from being irrelevant to human existence, Facebook has become an integral part of it for millions of people.
The site was offline for around 30 minutes. As usual when something goes pear-shaped at Facebook, a statement was released referring to the “issue” that had now been “resolved”. No mention of what might have caused it – although a global system with its load spread across several servers in several continents only goes down as a result of something pretty serious. But soon, everything was back to normal. My news feed updated with a post from my friend Samantha. “I looked into the abyss,” she wrote of the outage, “a dark and desolate existence.” And I think she was only half-joking.