The big social media blackout: what went wrong with Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram?

The Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram logos and the stock chart are shown in this illustration taken on October 4, 2021.
Image credit: Reuters

Dubai: Facebook, the world’s largest social media platform, along with its WhatsApp instant messaging service and Instagram photo and video sharing app, was down for nearly 6 hours on Monday. This was the longest time a major social platform was inaccessible in recent times. This has left billions of people disconnected from news sources, events and friends.

The blackout prevented the company’s 3.5 billion users from accessing its social media and messaging services such as WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger, the largest ever tracked by web monitoring group Downdetector.

Confused followers have flocked to alternative platforms like Twitter, TikTok, and Telegram. Facebook shares fell 4.9%, and the company lost around $ 6 billion in revenue in the process.

“To all the businesses big and small, families and individuals who depend on us, I’m sorry,” Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer tweeted, adding that it “may take a while to reach 100%” .


There was speculation about a cyber attack and even rumors about the Facebook domain being put up for sale. The outage not only affected the site and apps, but also Facebook’s internal networks and official emails.

In a statement, Facebook blamed it on a “flawed configuration change.” However, the company in its blog post did not mention the reason for the configuration change.

“This disruption in network traffic has had a cascading effect on the way our data centers communicate, shutting down our services,” the company’s engineering team wrote in a blog post Monday night.

Many Facebook employees who declined to be named told Reuters the outage was due to an internal error in the way Internet traffic is routed to its systems.

But what really caused the blackout?

What Facebook says

Santosh Janardhan, vice president of infrastructure for Facebook, wrote in a blog post that “the configuration changes on the backbone routers that coordinate network traffic between our data centers have caused issues that have interrupted this communication. “.

What does it mean?

Cyber ​​experts think the problem boils down to something called BGP, or Border Gateway Patrol. This is the system the Internet uses to select the fastest route to move information packets.

Sami Slim of data center company Telehouse compared BGP to “the Internet equivalent of air traffic control,” AFP noted.

In the same way that air traffic controllers sometimes change flight schedules, “Facebook has updated these routes,” Slim said.

However, this routing update contained a critical error.

It’s not yet clear how or why, but the outage was triggered when Facebook’s routers essentially sent a message to the internet announcing that the company’s servers no longer existed.

Why did it take so long to fix it?

Facebook’s technical infrastructure is exceptionally dependent on its own systems – and that has proven to be disastrous, experts noted.

After the fateful routing update was sent, Facebook engineers were kicked out of the system, allowing them to communicate that the update was in fact an error. So they could not solve the problem.

The ripple effects of the closure were so significant that some Facebook employees were unable to even enter their buildings because their security badges no longer worked, further slowing the response.

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