It took 30 minutes to prove that Facebook equals the internet

An 'issue' on the social networking site yesterday had millions of users peering into a dark abyss


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.

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.

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