WhatsApp rival Signal gets ‘millions’ of new users in the wake of Facebook’s dramatic six-hour outage

‘Signal is WhatsUp’, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey quipped

Adam Smith
Tuesday 05 October 2021 10:06 BST

Signal, the encrypted messaging app, has said that “millions of new people” joined the service in the wake of a massive outage that made Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram unusable.

The social media giant experienced a six-hour crash caused by configuration changes to its routers. “This disruption to network traffic had a cascading effect on the way our data centres communicate, bringing our services to a halt,” Facebook said.

In the wake of this event, which saw $7 billion wiped from Mark Zuckerberg’s net worth, Signal tweeted that its signups were “on the way up”. After seven hours, it said millions had joined the platform – to the extend that its “messaging and calling have been up and running but some people aren’t seeing all of their contacts appear on Signal” due to the influx of users.

The app also jumped 59 places according to app analyst Sensor Tower’s ranking of top free apps, from 473 in the United States to 414. In the United Kingdom, it rose from 590 to 430.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey also lent his endorsement to the messaging platform: “Signal is WhatsUp”, he tweeted.

Signal’s underlying code is open-source, meaning that it can be examined by security and privacy engineers outside of the company, and is the foundation of encryption Facebook and Google’s apps. WhatsApp itself uses the same protocol that Signal does.

Facebook, meanwhile, has had long-running plans to centralise the infrastructure of its various social media apps in order to create “the best messaging experiences” for its users.

Critics, however, have said that such a move would make it more difficult to break the companies up and, when issues such as these occur, mean every platform goes down as they did in in June and April this year due to a “network configuration issue”.

This is not the only time that Signal has received a mass migration after a Facebook fiasco. In January this year, WhatsApp sent a message to all users informing them that it would begin sharing certain data with Facebook.

In response, Signal received endorsements from Elon Musk and Edward Snowden, reaching the top spot on both Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store. Signal said that, while it could not confirm figures, Signal was hitting levels of new sign-ups, “on par with January of this year.”

This was not the longest outage in Facebook’s history. In 2019 it was offline for more than 24 hours, for reasons that remain unclear. Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said that when the company’s service goes down - especially chatting apps like WhatsApp - “there are people who just don’t come back”.

He added that “it takes months to fight and earn back people’s trust and usage of our services,” a transcript of an internal call published in The Verge revealed, “so yes, it’s a big deal.”

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