October 4, 2021 was a day to think about the impact of Facebook on our lives: a failure brought down the company’s entire family of apps, including WhatsApp and Instagram, which have more than 3 billion users. But Mark Zuckerberg’s company is so big that the fall hasn’t just affected one or another service you love to hate: the fabric of the internet (and the world) has also been shaken.
As of this writing, more than two hours after the first crash reports, all Facebook services are down, which ironically includes the status.fb.com page, created to let you know when there is a technical problem with social network. For leading DNS services such as Cloudflare, Google and OpenDNS, the facebook.com domain simply… no longer exists.
The internet is a network, and this has consequences
As soon as Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram went off the air, around 12:50 pm this Monday (4), the DownDetector identified a spike in reports of instabilities in other services, such as Telegram, Gmail and the four largest operators in Brazil, Claro, Oi, TIM and Vivo. The behavior was similar in other countries: AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, for example, followed the same curve in the United States. What do these companies have to do with Facebook?
Some dependencies are more visible, such as the login button via Facebook, which uses the social network’s authentication technology: there are people who had nothing to do with the problem and were locked out of a music service or delivery app. Once this essential Facebook service failed, even Tinder stopped working properly.
Other services are indirectly affected: whenever WhatsApp goes down, a horde of new users will discover Telegram, which has left the messaging app unstable due to the sudden increase in traffic. The same happened with Twitter, whose market value, at US$46 billion, is less than the amount of the fall of Facebook shares on the stock exchange today alone.
The DNS Overload Problem
But how to explain the reports of operator outages? Part of it, of course, is due to the wrong attribution of blame: WhatsApp is so ubiquitous to so many people that when the app goes down, it feels like the internet has simply stopped working. But Cloudflare’s CTO, John Graham-Cumming, shows how the entire internet is affected by the immensity of Facebook:
“Now here’s the fun part. CloudFlare has a free DNS resolver, 184.108.40.206, and many people use it. So, Facebook etc. fall… guess what happens? People keep trying. Software keep trying. We are hit by a huge flood of DNS traffic requesting facebook.com. And so, Facebook etc. are down, and CloudFlare teams have to fend for themselves to make sure things keep running smoothly through the crash.”
In other words, the downfall of a service the size of Facebook has a ripple effect across the internet. And if Cloudflare, a company that specializes in network reliability, needs to sweat to keep everything running during Facebook’s downfall, imagine what happens to your carrier’s DNS, which often crashes for no apparent reason. If the DNS server you use stops responding, almost everything that depends on the internet also stops working properly.
As a company of 3 billion users, the impact of a Facebook and Instagram downfall is immediate across the internet. But WhatsApp is what amplifies the damage to the physical world, after all, many commercial establishments sell through the messaging app — I hope you don’t rely on WhatsApp for dinner tonight. Banking services are also tightly integrated into the Facebook app.
In fact, legend has it that even federal governments in certain countries out there depend on WhatsApp.
I don’t know how long this will last
Facebook had not yet officially commented on the reason for the fall until this article was published. THE Reuters, researchers say human error may have resulted in failure, but internal sabotage is theoretically possible. Mark Zuckerberg’s company informed on Twitter that he was aware that “some people” were having difficulty accessing Facebook applications and products.
I need to finish this text because I need to record a Tecnocast, but maybe a new Facebook response will take a while, ok? a source it says to journalist Philip Crowther that Facebook’s internal systems are also down, and communication is being done via text messages and email. The journalist Sheera Frenkel points that employees are not able to enter offices, as access badges refer to a server that is also inaccessible.
In the meantime, you can, I don’t know, watch tech movies on Netflix or read some of the special reports you’ve put off for later.