Monday afternoon caused mass online confusion. People made phone calls who have only ever sent texts and messages for years. It was just shy of criminal mayhem online when Facebook and its family of apps went down. But it was a sneaky down. You could still log onto the app and it would appear that some posts were loading. Just enough that you didn’t suspect what was going on, only that your internet was bad or your app needed to update.
The outage was midday and affected Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp, and what was, in reality, little more than a slight inconvenience to most of the platform’s users was a loss of monumental proportions to the company.
According to Interesting Engineering’s reporting on the shutdown, Mark Zuckerberg lost more than $6 billion during the few hours that his websites were down on Monday. The loss clearly isn’t going to make Zuckerberg have to cut back, given his incredible wealth, however, $6 billion is a big chunk of change for anyone. Currently, Zuckerberg is the sixth richest person in the world with a net worth thought to be about $117 billion in total, trailing behind the richest person, Jeff Bezos, who is worth $185.8 billion.
The loss is still very significant, however. To put it in terms most of us might have an easier time understanding. If you had $117 to live on and you lost $6, you’d be pretty upset. Possibly even more upsetting though is the idea that the network of apps is making that amount of money in an afternoon, and what they might do to keep making that amount of money.
Facebook’s breakdown did come at a convenient time, since it was the afternoon after a whistleblower outed the company for practices that she claims are targeted at stirring up hate and keeping users agitated so they keep coming back to Facebook, viewing ads, and using the platform in some way or another.
If the whistleblower’s allegations are correct it’s not just a bad thing that was revealed about the company, it blows apart everything they’ve claimed to be doing with their platform and uncovers a trove of lies that could turn the strongest stomachs. So, was the headline-grabbing shutdown a real problem, and if so, what caused it? Or was it a calculated risk to pull attention away from a bigger problem?
Yesterday morning if you’d put “Facebook” into the Google search bar you’d have found a first page covered in stories about the whistleblower and the trove of documents she brought with her from her previous place of employment.
Tuesday morning, if you put “Facebook” into the search bar, the entire first page is covered with various outlets’ coverage of the social media giant’s outage and who was affected, what apps were down ad what the cause might have been.
Coincidence? Seems convenient.
However, if you did dig in far enough to find the whistleblower you’d have found documents to the United States Congress, the Securities Exchange Commission, and multiple news outlets about Facebook’s practices brought by Frances Haugen, a former product manager in Facebook’s now-disbanded Civic Integrity Unit. The brave former employee of one of the world’s richest men claimed that things were “substantially worse at Facebook than anything I’d seen before” and her assertion that she wants to help “fix the company, not harm it.
“When we realized tobacco companies were hiding the harms it caused, the government took action. When we figured out cars were safer with seatbelts, the government took action,” said Haugen’s written testimony to be delivered to a Senate Commerce subcommittee, in a report from Reuters. “I implore you to do the same here.”
And why exactly would one person’s testimony have such an impact on the world’s most prolific social media platform? Because Zuckerberg, genius that he is, has found a way to make more than your average amount of dough off of you and I scrolling for hours. Because one afternoon can lose him $6 billion. Just imagine what a week or a month could do.