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Facebook, WhatsApp outage an annoyance for U.S., but a big deal in rest of the world

Messaging apps "have become deeply integrated into the delivery of primary health care, education and other government services,” one expert said.
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The global Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram outage on Monday may have been an annoyance for the platforms' users in the United States, but it turned life upside down in parts of the rest of the world where the apps have become essential to commerce, health care and the basic functioning of government.

In India, doctors sounded the alarm about being unable to coordinate their schedules or share patient scans without WhatsApp. And in Malaysia, some small-business owners were left without a way to manage day-to-day operations as all business communications that are conducted through the app.

Richard James Mendoza, a freelance photo and video editor in Quezon City, northeast of the Philippine capital, Manila, said the outage had left “everything in shambles.”

Image: WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram Down globally
A man tries to check Facebook using his mobile phone in Chennai, India, on Monday. Sri Loganathan / Zuma Press

Mendoza, 28, said he relies heavily on Facebook for information on the country's charged presidential election campaign and Covid-19 updates from the government. On Monday, his feed ground to a halt.

He also was not able to reach his colleagues, friends and family via Facebook Messenger for hours.

"It wasn't until one of my friends sent a message in our group chat hours later," he said. "They themselves were left clueless why Facebook was down."

Government offices, companies and schools in the Philippines use Facebook's infrastructure as a central hub for nearly all information sharing, Mendoza said, so the outage was a "big deal" for people trying to look for information online as the outage was happening.

“In many developing countries, services including WhatsApp, Facebook and Facebook Messenger have become deeply integrated into the delivery of primary health care, education and other government services,” Marcus Leaning, a digital media education professor at the University of Winchester in the U.K., said. “In the global North, we tend to use such services as supplementary to other channels of communication, so the global outage will have a disproportionate impact.”

A man checks his phone in Mexico City on Oct. 4, 2021.
A man checks his phone in Mexico City on Monday.Diego Simon Sanchez / GDA via AP

More than 2 billion people in over 180 countries use WhatsApp, while Facebook has more than 3 billion users worldwide, according to WhatsApp and Facebook. A recent Global Web Index report on worldwide social media useshowed that in countries like Kenya, Argentina, Malaysia, Colombia and Brazil, more than 90 percent of those 16 to 54 used WhatsApp.

Those countries that heavily rely on these services will be hit far harder in such outages and have consequences that will be far longer lasting, Leaning added.

WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Instagram have become indispensable alternatives to text messaging and phone calls throughout the world because they are cheaper.

In Malaysia, one Twitter user said their mother and brother were up at 4 a.m. panicking because they run their business communications primarily on WhatsApp.

Doctors in India, where more than 500 million people use WhatsApp, warned Monday that the outage affected their ability to do their jobs. A doctor in Rajarhat tweeted that everything from coordinating schedules to posting ward updates happens on WhatsApp.

Another doctor in Mumbai said his surgical unit’s communication about a sick patient collapsed without WhatsApp as a scan result couldn't be shared, and doctors had to resort to phone calls instead.

As Facebook and WhatsApp users in Latin America and their families in the U.S. also signaled how devastating the impact of the outage has been for them, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., responding to a tweet on the effect of the outage on the region, blamed Facebook’s “monopolistic behavior” for it.

If Facebook had been checked back when it should have been, Ocasio-Cortez added, “the continents of people who depend on WhatsApp and Instagram for either communication or commerce would be fine right now."

Facebook apologized Monday to what it said was “a huge community of people and businesses around the world who depend on us.” It later blamed the outage on faulty configuration changes on its routers.

The unprecedented outage came as Facebook is facing a growing barrage of issues, including damaging revelations from an ex-employee who accused the company of "choosing profit over public safety."