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Facebook Outage Offers Reminder To Brands: Never Put All Your Eggs In Zuck's Basket

by Rudy Sanchez on 10/05/2021 | 5 Minute Read

At approximately 11:40 am Eastern time Monday, Facebook started experiencing widespread outages to its entire network, including internal systems and social media networks like the image-centric Instagram, messaging services WhatsApp and Messenger, and virtual reality platform Oculus. 

According to the New York Times, the outage, which impacted over 3 billion users across the world, was due to a misconfiguration of the firm’s DNS settings, an internet protocol that helps direct traffic to/from servers such as those that host Facebook. A complete outage lasted around six hours, with services starting to come back online Monday evening.

The global blackout comes on the heels of a damning series of articles by the Wall Street Journal and a subsequent 60 Minutes interview with Facebook whistleblower Francis Haugen (Haugen is also scheduled to testify before Congress today).

Haugen characterizes the company as putting its interests ahead of users when it comes to hate speech, calls for violence, and misinformation. Internal studies by the social media giant also found that over 13% of teenage girls reported Instagram making their suicidal thoughts worse, and 17% reported a worsening of eating disorders due to the app. Though popular, the public has seen enough persistent negativity to push a planned “Instagram Kids” onto the shelf. The outage also occurred as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg signals an intent to stake a claim to the metaverse this summer, announcing an executive-level team tasked with making his digitally overlaid vision a reality.

Yesterday's outage calls into question the continued reliance by brands on Facebook and its bevy of products and services. A simple IT mistake takes down three critical platforms utilized by brands in a broad range of industries and of all sizes across the globe. Businesses that communicate with clients over WhatsApp have been left today scrambling to find an alternative, similar to the teams at Facebook, as the firm relies on its own services and internally developed tools to work together. For some brands, the web effectively went dark and their connection to consumers severed because their social media strategies focused on Facebook platforms, ignoring others such as Twitter and TikTok.

It might be easy to dismiss Monday’s outage as a freak occurrence, but it's also demonstrative of an enormous organization seemingly kept together with duct tape, twine, and bubble gum. Zuckerberg’s “move fast and break things” outlook serves only Facebook’s shareholders, and often the things that are being broken are civility, truth, and young teenage girls. For a brand to gingerly place so much reliance on a persistent “minimum viable product,” it takes a lot of trust in having its own interests align with Facebook’s (spoiler alert: they aren’t).

Haugen’s assertions and the WSJ's in-depth investigation were based on internal documents she collected while working for Facebook. If anything, these revelations should poke brands towards reconsidering being advertised alongside all the hate speech, pandemic misinformation, and incitements of violence that Facebook knowingly turns a self-interested blind eye towards, especially as consumers increasingly shop with a conscience. Haugen shared examples of how Facebook knew certain content was inflammatory and either only temporarily addressed it with ramped-up moderation (like during the 2020 US election) or completely ignored most complaints. Internal discussions saved by Haugen also show Facebook employees acknowledging a years-long pattern of inaction and indifference on the social media company’s part. Being associated with a toxic platform can, in time, turn away a brand's key consumer demographic. That same demographic will also start fleeing those networks, leaving only the hostile, hateful, and conspiracy-believing dredges of the consumer pool.

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Set against this backdrop of profits over users is Facebook’s longer-term ambitions to be the first to dominate the metaverse. Zuckerberg might be an off-brand Lex Luthor, but he’s no dummy either; the metaverse is coming to the mainstream soon and, with it, revenue potential. Facebook aims to replicate its dominance in social media and, like a stubborn weed, stake deep and pernicious roots in society’s upcoming cyber evolution. Facebook is one of few global firms with the human, technical, and financial capital to build the first successful metaverse platform. The rub is that no one wants more Facebook; brands, publishers, advertisers, users, and other stakeholders resent the dominance and indifference of the Facebook overlords. We live with the deal we made with the devil for pragmatic reasons, but it would be simply absurd to re-up for the metaverse version of Facebook.

We are at a crossroads when it comes to what being “online” means. Collectively, we can once again sell ourselves to be commoditized so we can make the metaverse “free,” not free as in beer, but free as in Facebook. That meta version of Facebook would squander bits and GPU-power on serving up an “immersive advertising experience personally tailored to you” while users toil away in an AR-version of Farmville, generating electricity for the Facebook metaverse server farms. We would become commodities to advertisers and be tracked across a crappy, buggy metaverse full of unchecked trolls, nutjobs, and charlatans—same as it ever was, but also maybe worse? Facebook and other social media platforms acted late when shutting out agitators-for-profit like Alex Jones from their platforms, allowing him and others to spread cynical and heartless misinformation. Did you hear the one about how the Sandy Hook school shooting was a “false flag” operation? So, why should those folks get a shot at the metaverse?

Brands would be wise to genuinely nurture consumer engagement across several social media platforms owned by companies other than Facebook, as well as build top-notch channels they have more control over, whether that's websites or mailing lists. Instead of making smaller social networks afterthoughts and destinations for unengaged crossposts, invest in those smaller audiences as you do on Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. Moreover, the Menlo Park tech firm has plenty to improve upon in the digital-only space, like curtailing hate speech, harassment, and misinformation on its platforms before it can be entrusted to lay the foundation for the exponentially more complex and intertwined reality of the metaverse for its billions and billions of users.

Facebook has yet to make meaningful inroads towards the metaverse. But evidence of the societal pollution Facebook leaves behind is significant enough to avoid following them into a new hybrid reality. If you don’t like Facebook now, there’s little reason to expect better from them in the metaverse. Rather than let it evolve into a toxic platform we later come to resent, let’s forget Facebook faster than we dropped MySpace this time. Let's build the next iteration of “online” that takes users’ concerns seriously and respects the trust of its community. Brands can lead by example and disengage with Facebook now and ignore Zuckerberg’s ambitions in the future.