Last week Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp didn’t work properly for a few hours and the world almost fell apart. Users of the three biggest online services—which are really just three parts of one service; Facebook—could not load content or send and receive messages for several hours.
From India to South Africa to South American to the US and the UK, the crash grabbed headlines as global users were forced to write in scroll and send their Instagram dinners to everyone they’d even met by via carrier pigeon. The problem was solved the same day and humanity returned to relative modernity.
The online outrage at the temporary glitch was comical in one sense but sobering in another. Not only did it shine a light on how hooked we are on social media, it also revealed that, for the first time in history, communications is being largely controlled by a one country. Indeed, nearly by one single company.
After the 2010 earthquake in Japan and subsequent Fukushima nuclear disaster, Facebook was hailed as communications savior. When phone lines were down or jammed, people were still able to contact loved ones over the social network. It caused the company to introduce the Crisis Response tool where users could ask if their friends were safe, and users could mark themselves and others safe, in the event of disaster. It is a very useful tool, but you have to wonder what would have happened if a real crisis had occurred during last week’s Facebook meltdown?
Anyone who was alive to remember the Cold War remembers the fear of nuclear attack. There is a good chance they still carry that fear, but in our digital driven future cyberattack is the more likely warfare. While it won’t cause a nuclear winter and make our body parts fall off, cyber warfare has the potential to bring countries to their knees. Big fat companies like Facebook will be a golden egg for hackers. Last week’s glitch was even pitted by many observers to be the work of malicious third party.
No matter how it occurred, it clearly showed that we need to not rely on one entity for our digital communications. Not only do Facebook have the world’s worst repudiation when it comes to user privacy, last week’s shows their servers aren’t full proof. You need more than one platform if you want to stay connected. And you need privacy and security in your online communications.