Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp back online after nearly six hours

  • Around 3.5 billion users were blocked from their social media and messaging services
  • People flocked to Twitter during the largest ever outage, believed to be the result of an internal mistake in how internet traffic is routed
Reuters |

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Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram suffered a massive blow on Monday when they went offline for nearly six hours. Photo: Reuters

While Hong Kong slept, Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp users around the world waited and wondered what was happening as a nearly six-hour outage prevented 3.5 billion users from accessing their social media and messaging services.

Facebook apologised but did not immediately explain what caused the failure, the largest ever tracked by web monitoring group Downdetector.

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“To every small and large business, family, and individual who depends on us, I’m sorry,” Facebook Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer tweeted, adding that it “may take some time to get to 100 per cent.”

Several Facebook employees who declined to be named said that they believed that the outage was caused by an internal mistake in how internet traffic is routed to its systems. The failures of internal communication tools and other resources that depend on that same network in order to work made the mistake worse, the employees said.

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg posted on Facebook after a nearly six-hour outage, apologising for the mistake. Photo: Mark Zuckerberg via Facebook /via Reuters

Security experts said a mistake, or even sabotage by an insider, were both plausible.

“Facebook basically locked its keys in its car,” tweeted Jonathan Zittrain, director of Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society.

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Twitter on Monday reported higher-than-normal usage, which led to some issues in people accessing posts and direct messages as users flocked to the site.

Facebook’s services, including consumer apps such as Instagram, workplace tools it sells to businesses and internal programmes, went dark noon Eastern time (12:ooam in Hong Kong). Access started to return around 5:45pm ET.

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Soon after the outage started, Facebook acknowledged users were having trouble accessing its apps but did not provide any specifics about the nature of the problem or say how many users were affected.

The error message on Facebook’s webpage suggested an error in the Domain Name System (DNS), which allows web addresses to take users to their destinations. A similar outage at cloud company Akamai Technologies Inc took down multiple websites in July.

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