πŸ‘Ž System Failure

Something doesn't feel like infrastructure until it disappears | the Facebook outage is more than just an opportunity to make memes

πŸ‘Ž System Failure
Hmm maybe it was Tom's fault? You know, the Myspace guy?

Hello people who may or may not have very recently logged on to Twitter for the first time in ages...

This week was something I could have done without πŸ‘Ž. Why do you think that might be?

  • It's all about the Facebook outage this week β€” sorry
  • WhatsApp is near enough the only messaging app in many countries, so this sucked for them
  • Facebook provides bullshit internet infrastructure in many countries too β€” maybe you see where this is going

Facebook πŸ”œ πŸ—‘οΈ

On Monday/Tuesday (depending on your time zone) all Facebook services took their leave from our precious internet for around six hours. As you can imagine, this was very serious and I have a lot to say about it.

But first: how did it happen? For those of you who care about the technical details and want to correct potential employers at networking events so you can impress them into hiring you: Cloudflare released a pretty good blog post about what happened. And here's my version in laymen’s terms:

  1. The internet needs to be told that websites exist so it can show us β€” the mortals β€” those websites
  2. Someone accidentally flipped a switch at Facebook HQ which turned off the 'hey, we exist' function
  3. So in effect: Facebook, briefly, for the first time in years, ceased to exist... and we were all free
  4. #DeleteFacebook started trending again β€” jokes on you guys, it deleted itself this time, lol
  5. Racist white women flocked to Mumsnet so that they still had somewhere to brag about how many managers they've spoken to this week. Everyone else flocked to Twitter.
  6. Facebook disappeared SO HARD that employees could not even access the offices, and the building began to eat itself because it was becoming less and less useful by the minute.

Result: someone had to PHYSICALLY go to a server site and turn a router on and off again, as we discussed here in this group chat on Signal, which was working perfectly the whole time, hint hint...

Screenshot 2021-10-04 at 18.35.21.png
What's more important? Spreading misinformation or stopping climate change? I think you know...

I of course spent the whole afternoon reminding people that WhatsApp was only good for telling people to get Signal, and also looking at tragic comments on Down Detector. One absolute classic:

Okay that's enough 'fun' β€” let's force feed ourselves some harsh reality

Sure, for us rich Westerners, the six hours without Facebook was just an unrelenting meme factory about how scummy, useless, and rubbish Facebook is, and how rightfully smug we all are for using alternative services.

In other countries, Facebook is not a joke, but rather a key piece of infrastructure: that's because they have the power to provide basic services for free, like messaging and browsing the internet.

Example: WhatsApp is the main messaging service in a lot of places, because it’s much freer than the alternative, which is SMS. Here are the top markets for WhatsApp users, who were of course left in the dark for six hours

system failure-4.png
A screenshot from this article which actually about marketing – sorry

Anyway, that's just WhatsApp. Don't forget about all those daft connectivity projects that I am CONSTANTLY complaining about. Time to properly school you on these:

Facebook Free Basics is a kind of 'web portal' created by Facebook, so that those who cannot afford to pay for internet can at least access a select few sites and services such as weather, banking, healthcare sites, etc. The only β€” quite obvious β€” catch is that access to these websites is provided via Facebook's servers. Translation: if you're poor Facebook control your internet, and can see your browsing first hand.

  • This is a net neutrality nightmare, and also a dystopian one
  • India banned this service in 2016, because they'd already been colonised once and really didn't want it to happen again β€” fair enough!
  • Free Basics is up and running in over 20 countries in Africa right now...

So that six hour down-time left many people without their only access point to the internet; and I mean the boring functional side of the internet, because we've all decided that everything should be done online, no matter where you live.

Facebook Discover is the thing they invented to take the heat off Free Basics. It is a mobile app that lets you browse anywhere on the internet, but you only get 10mb a day or something, so everything is displayed in plain text. This was piloted last year in Peru. Okay, but:

  • Supposedly, every website is served through a special proxy which strips out images and videos, and anything else that takes up a lot of data
  • Except! This isn't true on Facebook and Instagram: Facebook had no images or videos removed, and Instagram had only 4%
  • Other websites that use media to be appealing (like Youtube) get 65% of their images redacted β€” HOW INTERESTING.

These 'free' pieces of infrastructure indicate a few things that I honestly did not see enough discourse on this week (shame on you all!):

πŸ€¦β€β™€οΈ A central entity shouldn't have this much power and reach β€” the internet is clearly held up by sticky tape and hope, and Facebook have 90% of the sticky tape.

🀧 New consumer-focussed projects like Discover show us that Facebook want to penetrate as many markets as possible, and be in charge of what 'the internet' is for those communities.

🀒 I don't have a third thing, but all of this does make me sick; we need much more than this one whistleblower who's key message is that Facebook prioritise profit over social good β€” we already fucking knew that; have fun on the speaker's circuit.

Anyway, now that it's all up and running again, I expect Mark Zuckerberg won't even register any damage β€” what do you think?

Georgia


πŸ’Œ Seeing as you're at the end of this week's Horrific/Terrific, I guess you enjoyed it. Please express gratitude by donating money to me so I can keep doing this. You can share opinions/submit news stories any time on my Twitter or email.