Facebook platform users hit Twitter with #facebookdown Wednesday, after losing access to Facebook, Instagram and Messenger across the world.
Wochit, USA TODAY
For me, It started with a birthday wish that was never sent. Elsewhere, a phone actually rang, answered by a son whose mom thought he had blocked her. And all across America, selfies piled up in smartphones with nowhere to post.
The message received: “The message could not be posted to this Timeline.”
On Thursday morning, at least 22 hours after the start of one of the longest outages in Facebook’s history, it was a notable disruption for many of us who have woven the ritual of flicking through Facebook and Instagram into the fabric of our day.
When the world’s largest social network goes down for any meaningful length of time, what sort of void, if any, does it leave us? Maybe less of one than you think, certainly for some people.
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My inability to send birthday greetings was annoying but hardly life-altering. And that seemed to be the general sentiment among my own Facebook friends and the larger community of folks I canvassed on social media. That is, among the very people who even noticed the outage, a fair number of whom did not.
Precious little outrage. No visible panic attacks, despite #FacebookDown trending on Twitter.
Some even found the massive outage surprisingly refreshing. As Facebook user Jennie Gamut Aspelin posted on the service: “I noticed it and was glad I couldn’t access it. It was a more productive day for me!”
Another user, Melanie Peters, relayed a conversation she had with her husband in the aftermath of the outage:
Me: “It was so restful not to be on Facebook all day.”
Him: “I know. Imagine going not logging in for a month.”
Long pause while we smiled softly into space
Me: “God, that would be wonderful!”
Peters added that “of course, we don’t have to log in and I’m always threatening to dump my account. But so many of our friends and family use it as their only means of communication, so pushing that final deactivation button isn’t easily done. But damn – yesterday was great!”
Freelance author and journalist Frank Vizard came to a similar conclusion. “It was like a nice short vacation,” he quipped.
Still, there were unintended consequences. My USA TODAY colleague Dalvin Brown received a phone call from his mother who thought when a comment she tried to send him on Facebook didn’t go through that he had blocked her from the service.
He had some explaining to do.
Facebook has been a magnet for disturbing news the past couple of years or so, leaving some people to break up with the service for good and placing CEO Mark Zuckerberg on the hot seat. Go down the list: Cambridge Analytica, fake news, Messenger Kids scandals, security breaches, data deals that have the company under criminal investigation, and yes, now, this latest outage, which Facebook blamed on a server configuration error, and which also grounded Facebook-owned Instagram and caused issues for WhatsApp.
And yet for all of Facebook’s well-publicized troubles, 2.3 billion folks have, for better or worse, stuck around, myself among them.
We hang around, of course, not only to wish pals a happy birthday but as a way to celebrate our families and milestones, and to rekindle or stay connected with friends from the past and present, some dating back to grade school, old jobs or summer camp. Had Facebook not come along, we’d never have spoken to some of these people again. Hard to put a price on that one.
The latest outage for sure left some users who conduct business on the site frustrated. And the same went for people who turn to Facebook as a social outlet or as an antidote to loneliness.
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The Instagram outage troubled a different generation as well.
Craig Beilinson says his 13-year-old son Jacob couldn’t understand why his Instagram feeds weren’t updating, something dad described as “super impactful.” It was only after learning about the outage later in the day that the younger Beilinson even discovered the connection between Facebook and Instagram.
I was eventually able to once again send people Facebook birthday greetings. But Valerie Beale whose birthday fell on the day of the outage described the extra gift she received: “I got actual phone calls.”
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