Home Opinion After yet another Facebook outage, are tech outages becoming more dangerous?

After yet another Facebook outage, are tech outages becoming more dangerous?

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This past week saw yet another big social media outage as Facebook, along with its sister sites Instagram and WhatsApp, had an outage that prevented images from loading feeds or WhatsApp from sending image and video-based messages. It was an outage that I only read about in the news as the timing of the outage combined with the fact that I don’t sit on social media much meant that I missed it entirely. The issues didn’t affect everyone, but a large enough contingent of people to make news around the world.

With a world population that is only growing in their usage of social media, it was an outage that caused a lot of issues for many and gave us a glimpse of fear that people have when the systems they rely on fail and the communication platforms they use to communicate with each other are no longer available.

While these outages are infrequent and perhaps nothing to get too scared about (yet), the fact that they are increasing in both regularity and scale (even Twitter, YouTube, Amazon and Apple suffered various big outages over the past year)  does point to the complexities that exist in these growing systems and how even a supposed routine maintenance issue like that which affected Facebook, can easily become a global problem:

Facebook has had problems loading images, videos, and other data across its apps today, leaving some people unable to load photos in the Facebook News Feed, view stories on Instagram, or send messages in WhatsApp. Facebook says it is aware of the issues and “working to get things back to normal as quickly as possible.” It blamed the outage on an error that was triggered during a “routine maintenance operation.”

The issues started around 8 AM ET and began slowly clearing up after a couple of hours, according to DownDetector, which monitors website and app issues. The errors aren’t affecting all images; many pictures on Facebook and Instagram still load, but others are appearing blank. DownDetector has also received reports of people being unable to load messages in Facebook Messenger.

The thing is, as fun as it is to joke about these problems and remind ourselves that as a world we shouldn’t rely too much on social media and use these times as a moment to focus on those around us instead the truth is that too many industries and people have grown that now rely on social media, meaning that any outage of the sort that occurred this week is not just a mere inconvenience but an actual loss of income and livelihood. The Verge has compiled an article on how social media has been drastically affecting the lives of people around the world and it does paint a concerning picture when things get misused or outages occur.

The reason we are seeing an increase in this sort of issue is because these networks are growing increasingly complex, with dependencies on external factors  that companies cannot easily control and where even the smallest issue can easily escalate and while companies are so far doing a great job in keeping their systems up under the circumstances its easy to see how this problem is only going to grow in complexity and affect more and more people.

So, what am I trying to say through all this? Well, I don’t have the answers to these complex problems or even suggest that we should change our reliance on them, but I do believe that as we become more reliant on tech companies, outages are going to become more and more dangerous and while I’m not trying to write a script for the next Black Mirror episode or anything, I do find it something that we will need to be on the lookout for in the future as every small tech outage starts to affect the economy in greater ways.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Critical Hit as an organisation.

Last Updated: July 5, 2019

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