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Thursday, October 21, 2021

Here’s why Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram went down for hours on Monday

A global Facebook outage lasted for about six hours before the service started to get restored.

By: Tech Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: October 5, 2021 1:07:23 pm
Facebook, Facebook outage, Instagram, Instagram outage, WhatsApp, WhatsApp outage, WhatsApp down, Instagram server, Facebook newsFacebook is used to sign in to many other apps and services, leading to unexpected domino effects such as people not being able to log into shopping websites or sign into their smart TVs, thermostats and other internet-connected devices (Image credit: Reuters)

Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp were inaccessible for six hours late Monday (India time), creating panic among millions of users and wall street investors. Reports on DownDetector.com showed the outages appeared to be widespread, but it wasn’t clear immediately what went wrong. At around 4:40 am IST (Tuesday), some users were able to access the platforms, but the services weren’t fully restored. Monday’s outage is one of the longest in the history of Facebook, affecting a large chunk of the global population who rely on the social media giant and its apps for communication and running businesses. The real story from the outage is that Facebook is a monopoly and if the company’s core social apps are down for a day, millions of people lose communication.

We try to make sense of the outage and how badly it affected around 3.5 billion people who use Facebook’s ‘mega’ social apps.

The outage affected every Facebook social app

Not just Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger too were inaccessible for almost six hours. The outages appear to have started around 9:10 pm IST and all of those services remain inaccessible. As soon as people started discovering they were unable to access WhatsApp and Instagram, they either jumped onto rival platforms or Twitter to check if other users also experiencing crashing of the platforms. Twitter, in particular, saw a meme fest and users’ agitation towards Facebook, with the hashtag “#DeleteFacebook” started trending. The outage affected every geographical region, including India, the United States, the United Kingdom, Kuwait, and more. Monday’s outage also affected apps that use Facebook login, including Niantic’s Pokemon Go.

Facebook also suffered internally

It’s not just regular users, the outage also impacted Facebook’s internal Workplace site and services for employees, according to Jane Manchun Wong. This led to employees turning to Discord and FaceTime for communication, according to tech website The Verge. The New York Times reported that everything inside Facebook came to standstill during the outage with many unable to use keycards to enter buildings and access scheduling tools.

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What exactly happened?

According to Cloudflare VP Dane Knecht, the root cause of the problem was a major DNS failure at Facebook. DNS or Domain Name System is the service that translates human-readable hostnames (like indianexpress.com) to raw, numeric IP addresses. If DNS is not working properly, your computer will unable to connect to the servers that host the website one is looking for. But the problem was deep and it was connected to BGP routing. BGP—short for Border Gateway Protocol is the system that helps one network finds the best route to a different network. As this has happened in this case, with no BGP routes into Facebook’s networks, the company’s DNS servers were unreachable.

What has been Facebook’s response to the outage?

In a Facebook post after the service had been restored, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg wrote: “Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger are coming back online now. “Sorry for the disruption today – I know how much you rely on our services to stay connected with the people you care about.”

Separately, in a statement on Tuesday, Facebook said that the faulty configuration change affected the company’s internal tools and systems which further complicated the problem. “We want to make clear at this time we believe the root cause of this outage was a faulty configuration change,” Facebook said in the blog.

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Is Facebook new to global outages?

No. A similar disruption in 2019 left Facebook’s apps and services inaccessible for 24 hours. That time, Facebook blamed the issue on a “server configuration change”.

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