So, err, what actually happened to Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp yesterday?

·4-min read
Photo credit: GaudiLab - Getty Images
Photo credit: GaudiLab - Getty Images

If, like us, you spent all of yesterday looking forward to an evening scroll on socials, but instead found yourself wondering what the heck do with yourself, you're not alone. Yep, in fact the whole world lost the ability to deep dive on Instagram on 4 October after Facebook suffered a major outage. The messaging platform Whatsapp was also affected by the outage, meaning our group chats went silent for the first time in, well, forever.

With the three main social players off-grid, many people took to Twitter and TikTok to fill the gaping social media hole in their lives, and to ask the question on everyone's lips: "What is going on?"

Unsurprisingly, the answer to that question is very techy – and also hard to pinpoint, given that Facebook is notoriously tightlipped about anything and everything that goes on at their HQ. But, with the internet collectively losing their minds over the drama, one tech expert came to our rescue and gave us all the answer we were looking for.

In a series of tweets Alex Hern, UK Technology Editor at the Guardian, simplified the social giant's outage for us non-tech people. "Facebook (accidentally, we assume) sent an update to a deep-level routing protocol on the internet that said, basically, 'hey we don't have any servers any more xoxo'," he tweeted.

"Normally, this would be quite easy to fix. you just send another update saying 'oh, don't worry, we have servers, they're here, xoxo'. Things still break, it takes a while for the message to spread to all corners of the internet, egg on face, but liveable," he added, "But Facebook runs EVERYTHING through Facebook."

Hern continued: "So when its servers were booted off the internet, it also booted off the ability to send that follow-up message. And the ability to log-in to the system that would send the follow-up message. And the ability to use the smart card door lock on the front door to the building that contains the servers that control the system that sends the follow-up message. And the messaging service you use to contact the head of physical security to tell them they need to high-tail it to the data centre out east with a physical key to override the smart card door lock on the front door."

Still following?

Essentially, Facebook locked the keys to their car inside the car, and didn't have a spare.

Although Hern's explanation seems to be the most logical, that hasn't stopped the internet from coming up with other theories as to why the social giant stopped working.

One Twitter user suggested the outage could be linked to former Facebook employee Frances Haugen, who acted as a whistleblower against the company's behaviour. In an interview on 60 Minutes (just a day before the outage), Haugen claimed that Facebook repeatedly prioritised "growth over safety" and leaked documents that she said proved this.

Elsewhere on the Twittersphere, some people were sure that astrology was to blame for the outage. According to astrologists, it's all to do with Mercury being in retrograde – which, apparently, affects anything to do with communication. "It's Mercury retrograde and 3 of the biggest social media platforms are all down right now simultaneously. Coincidence? I think not," said one Twitter user, while another wrote "Social media blackout right now and yes I do blame Mercury retrograde."

Thankfully, this morning (5 October) we all woke up to the fabulous news that the issue had been resolved. Nature's healing and all that.

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