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The Extraordinary Global Consequences of a Facebook Outage

October 8, 2021

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What's happening?

Unless you’ve been living on the moon, you are probably aware that on Monday October 4, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp (all owned by Facebook) experienced a six-hour outage that affected over 2.5 billion people. While countless memes circulated that joked about all the free time that suddenly became available, many people around the world lost contact with their families, patients were cut off from doctors, and governments were unable to communicate with citizens.

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In Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari’s communications team, government officials and governors in 36 states were unable to communicate during the outage, having become increasingly reliant on Facebook since the Nigerian government banned Twitter on June 5, after Twitter deleted tweets made by the Nigerian President that threatened suspected separatist militants.

India has the largest number of Facebook users in the world - more than 340 million - and  WhatsApp is also a critical tool for personal and business communication. According to research company eMarketer, India has nearly 490 million active WhatsApp users. The platforms are used to advertise and sell products directly to customers and thousands of Indian businesses are thought to have lost out on sales on Monday, with people unable to order groceries and other essentials.

Supply Chain Monitoring: the Value of Social Media Data in a Crisis

Users in Latin America were also severely affected. According to Global Web Index's 2020 Social Media User Trends Report, 93 percent of those aged 16-64 in Argentina use WhatsApp, as well as 92 percent of Colombians in the same age group, and 91 percent of people in Brazil. The app has also become an invaluable tool for those wanting a free and easy way to keep in contact with relatives who have moved to the U.S.  People of all ages in Latin America are more likely to use WhatsApp than other messaging services or apps. In Brazil, WhatsApp is even used by the educational system, where students can receive their exam results via the messaging service.

The European Union’s antitrust chief and digital czar, Margrethe Vestager said: “It’s always important that people have alternatives and choices. This is why we work on keeping digital markets fair and contestable. An outage as we have seen shows that it’s never good to rely only on a few big players, whoever they are.”

The Federal Trade Commission had previously filed an antitrust lawsuit accusing the company of crushing its rivals, which Facebook recently filed a motion to dismiss. US Rep Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez has also called for the company to be broken up.

How does this impact you?

Facebook’s loss turned into a gain for other social media platforms. 

Twitter CEO jack Dorset retweeted a recommendation from Edward Snowden that disgruntled WhatsApp users switch their allegiance to Signal:

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Telegram, whose functionality is similar to WhatsApp, surged 55 places to top the U.S. iPhone download chart, according to Sensor Tower. Among social media platforms, Snapchat led in growth with time spent climbing 23 percent week over week. Other services saw a slight increase, with Twitter usage climbing 11 percent and TikTok increasing by 2 percent. Use of Signal grew 15 percent and Telegram use climbed 18 percent over the previous week.

What can you do?

The popularity of different social media platforms will fluctuate over time. This outage illustrates that using a variety of global data sources is crucial to any intelligence team that needs to stay on top of an increasingly diverse internet threat landscape. 

For security and intelligence teams operating on a global scale, understanding how social data is used around the world is essential. This understanding will ensure your team:

  • Keeps up to date on new/relevant global social networks 
  • Knows what to look for on which networks
  • Has a sense of cultural context and nuance, for more intelligent information gathering

The most effective way to gather information from global social data sources is to use OSINT tools that aggregate a wide range of data in one intuitive interface. 

To learn about Echosec Systems and how we are working to illuminate all the world’s social data, book some time with our team.


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