On Monday October 4, 2021, those whose world revolved around Facebook and its other social media and communications properties, had their lives disrupted. Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp were all down—off the internet. The outage was unexpected, even at a time when the global pandemic made us question the stability and telos of business and political institutions more than ever.
The service disruption began at approximately 11:40 a.m. Eastern Time and lasted deep into the evening. While some users were able to access certain bookmarked pages, nothing on those pages was functional. The effort to reestablish service also proved to be a difficult task because Facebook engineers—both in the United States and around the world—couldn’t access internal tools which used the same compromised internet infrastructure that led to the disruption of service.
A statement by Santosh Janardhan, Facebook’s vice president in charge of infrastructure pointed to an issue that stemmed from an update to the firm’s Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) records. BGP is critical to the basic functionality of the internet. It allows networks of addresses—such as Facebook’s, to advertise their presence to others. “[I]n the extensive day-to-day work of maintaining [of our] infrastructure, our engineers often need to take part of the backbone offline for maintenance . . .This was the source of yesterday’s outage,” Janardhan wrote in an official Facebook blog post.
“During one of these routine maintenance jobs, a command was issued with the intention to assess the availability of global backbone capacity, which unintentionally took down all the connections in our backbone network, effectively disconnecting Facebook data centers globally,” Janardhan continued, adding that a safeguard in a secondary process affected their DNS servers making them unreachable even though they were still operational. Doug Madory, director of internet analysis at Kentik—a network monitoring company, said it was unclear if the configuration changes were made maliciously or by accident.
“In the past year or so, we’ve seen a lot of these big outages where they had some sort of update to their global network configuration that went awry,” he said. “We obviously can’t rule out someone hacking them, but they also could have done this to themselves.”
Malicious or not, the service disruption affected billions of users worldwide. All three Facebook products rank within the top four most used social networks, the fourth being YouTube. When you couple that with the results of a 2021 Pew Research Center study that determined over 53 percent of adults in the United States now get their news through social media either “often” or “sometimes,” the realization of the amount of societal influence Facebook has over our planet’s populace is jaw-dropping.
A recent “60 Minutes” interview with Whistleblower Frances Haugen, a 37-year-old data scientist and former product manager for Facebook’s civil integrity department, revealed that Facebook deliberately used algorithms to prioritize profits, compromising the safety and welfare of its users, and misleading users as to its commitment to combating hate, violence, and misinformation online. Haugen pointed specifically to the fact that Facebook sought to amplify the Capitol Hill riots of January 6, only turning on its safety systems temporarily to reduce misinformation during the 2020 General Election.
With Facebook’s exposed willingness to manipulate and censor information—and with some lawmakers on Capitol Hill encouraging the Silicon Valley social media giant to increase its engagement with the information they host, Facebook may be soon spiraling into an Orwellian propaganda machine. The recent tech giant’s service interruption alerts our society of our profound dependence on social media and its communication platforms; more importantly, the offlining should highlight the overall unreliability of social media—not just by way of operational integrity, but by virtue of information integrity.
Therein lies the real problem with giant social media companies such as Facebook.
Since the whole of Silicon Valley’s social media complex was transparently applying censorship strategies during the last presidential election—and since over half the population in the United States relies on news from social media, the notion that centrally planned social engineering exists is no longer just a conspiracy theorist’s lore or a subplot in a science fiction novel. When a sitting American president can be cancelled by social media networks, during a presidential election and when that election interference is only aimed at one campaign, the argument that there is at least tacit collusion between elite political interests and giant tech companies gains extraordinary momentum.
In July, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki let it slip that the Biden Administration was actively engaged with Facebook in flagging for censorship “problematic” posts related to COVID, thus admitting to partnering with Facebook in a manner that most likely involved undisclosed political policies, further weaponizing the pandemic and its mitigation efforts. Knowing that a public-private partnership between the U.S. government and social media behemoths of Silicon Valley does, in fact, exist, how are the American people supposed to trust the establishment when it comes to world news or national policy? How are we to know we can trust material policy information coming from the Left and the Biden Administration on issues like climate change, monetary policy, race relations, or the World Economic Forum’s Great Reset? We cannot.
Maybe Facebook’s service interruption signals that we should reconsider not just its operational reliability, but its integrity as a source of information and news. Its business and political agenda render it less objective than we think.