PANICKED conspiracy theorists argue that a recent spate of social media outages is a sign that the web is in crisis.
Facebook, Snapchat and Twitch have all experienced major accidents in the past two weeks, raising fears of an impending internet meltdown.
While the series of power outages is indeed a cause for concern, there is a much simpler explanation for it.
Speaking to The Sun, experts and analysts said the outages are the result of technology companies relying on aging and vulnerable infrastructure.
They’re also more noticeable than ever since we rely on a handful of services for much of our online experience these days.
DOWN AND OFF
The series of recent social media shutdowns began on October 4 when Facebook was hit by a major outage.
It caused the California company’s services, including WhatsApp and Instagram, to be offline for several hours.
As if that wasn’t enough, Facebook’s array of platforms went off the air again on October 8.
The errors were attributed to technological errors. The company’s engineers are said to have accidentally disconnected the data centers from the internet.
Since the Facebook outage, Twitch was hacked on October 6, while Snapchat was down for several hours on Wednesday.
ITV Hub, Microsoft Teams, Reddit and mobile and internet service providers BT and Three have also been shut down in recent weeks.
The effect has been dramatic. Billions of people rely on services like Facebook not only for their social lives, but also for their business.
The outage cost Facebook an estimated $100 million in lost online ad sales.
Widespread online blackouts are on the rise, according to Luke Deryckx, chief technical officer at Down Detector, a site that detects online outages.
“One of the things we’ve seen in recent years is an increased reliance on a small number of networks and companies to deliver large amounts of internet content,” he told the BBC.
Recent Online Outages
Here are some of the latest services that have gone down in the past few weeks…
- 4 October: Facebook, Instagram & WhatsApp go down for hours
- October 8: Facebook, Instagram & WhatsApp are going down again
- October 13: Snapchat goes off
- October 13: Reddit goes offline for hours
- 14 October: Microsoft Teams hit by outage
- 14 October: BT and EE go down
- 14 October: Three affected by outage
“If one of these, or more than one, has a problem, it affects not only them, but hundreds of thousands of other services as well.”
For example, people use Facebook to log into a range of services, including apps like Tinder and devices like smart televisions.
“And so, you know, we have these kinds of ‘snow days’ on the internet now,” Luke said. “Something goes wrong [and] we all look at each other like ‘well, what are we going to do?'”
The outages led to claims on sites like Twitter and Reddit that the internet is being “attacked” or “eating itself”.
Others said the problems showed that the web as we know it is on the brink of collapse.
There were even false suggestions that Facebook might have shut down its own services to remove compromising information from its servers.
One user claimed on Reddit, “Money can be made back. But the chance to erase incriminating data or who knows what it’s worth to Zuckerberg.”
Another said: “Unfortunately, it’s just there so they can remove incriminating evidence.”
Some internet users stressed that the sheer number of shutdowns is the inevitable result of a small number of companies owning multiple major services that billions of people rely on.
One user tweeted: “The internet is run by a bunch of clumsy monopolies, and maybe, JUST maybe, that’s a terrible idea.”
EXPERTS WEIGH IN
Inevitably, when a number of outages occur simultaneously, people worry that the problem is the result of a cyber attack or internet meltdown.
More often than not though, it’s just human error coupled with the web running on outdated and complicated systems.
Speaking to The Sun, tech expert and former Facebook employee Will Guyatt said there was no reason to worry about an impending web shutdown.
He argued that the systems that companies like Facebook rely on need to be updated to eliminate their vulnerability to hours-long outages.
“The more paranoid among us think these failures are because the internet is on the brink of collapse — not so, because in the case of the biggest failure in Facebook Inc. history, a poor engineer literally pressed the wrong button and the entire company knocked down,” he said.
“At the same time, however, we urgently need to address some of the shortcuts that have been taken to give us the super-fast internet we’ve come to know and love – we’ve had outages over the past year that hit thousands of major websites, when services from third parties failed.
“We can’t keep making such compromises by adding some points of failure that leave sites or our connections offline.”
Analyst Jake Moore, a specialist at cybersecurity firm ESET, said the unprecedented size of companies like Facebook and Snapchat is part of the problem.
“Large infrastructures tend to struggle with internal changes when the scale of the network has outgrown its original capacity,” he told The Sun.
“As the internet grows exponentially, so do the problems associated with it, which can take them offline for hours on end, coinciding with the dazzling financial impact.”
He also argued that the protection methods of the sites should be improved to stop the onslaught of power outages.
“The recent issues we’ve seen highlight the increasing number of users and data on a network that urgently needs to be addressed with better protection methods,” Jake said.
“The internet is now a bigger part of our lives than ever before, switching between platforms as people use services like Facebook to log into other sites.
“This reliance highlights just one of the ways we lose control of our independence as we transfer more automation to fewer large companies in charge.
“Spreading infrastructure measures across various internal and external platforms can help mitigate impact and risks and should be considered to help with the inevitable ever-increasing internet usage.”
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