Tech

Facebook’s Daylong Malfunction Is a Reminder of the Internet’s Fragility

A coding error led to a major service interruption on Facebook and its other properties, including WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger. Credit Josh Edelson / Agence France-Presse

That little mistake had great consequences. Instagram users could not see other profiles, WhatsApp users could not send messages and the news through the main Facebook application went blank.

Downdetector, which is compared to a weather report for the internet, said it received 7.5 million reports of problems on Facebook applications. By comparison, the widespread problems on YouTube in October caused only 2.7 million reports. Downdetector measures service interruptions in part by counting the reports of users who are experiencing problems.

“We’ve never seen such a big disruption before,” said Tom Sanders, co-founder of Downdetector.

Early Thursday, Facebook was able to reconnect most of its online systems. The company is still trying to figure out how that error reverberated throughout its network. Facebook officials emphasized that the problem had not been caused by piracy or a cyber attack such as the so-called denial of service attack, which would affect the servers with a wave of traffic that caused them to stop working.

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For years, Facebook has recruited engineers with the idea that within a few weeks they can launch a computer code that affects billions of people.

“I still get a lot of satisfaction seeing that my work has a significant impact on the lives of many people,” says a testimony from an employee on Facebook’s “Career” recruitment page.

But that also means that the mistake of a single employee can have widespread consequences, especially when Facebook works on a recently detailed plan to consolidate the infrastructure of its “family of applications”. A small technical problem can become a big one.

Facebook, like other Internet giants, prides itself on never being disconnected. That predictability has helped him become one of the most influential and criticized companies in the world. It is estimated that more than two billion people use one or more of their services daily.

According to Mr. Sanders, as people rely more on Facebook services, to talk with family and friends and to do their job, they have higher expectations of performance.

“The tolerance to downtime decreases and people expect more and more that services run smoothly 365 days a year,” he said.

Although the incident was an irritation for many users, it had more urgent consequences for companies, such as advertising, which depend on the Facebook network to generate income.