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Monday morning — hours after whistleblower Frances Haugen revealed on 60 Minutes that she was the former Facebook employee who leaked internal research to the Wall Street Journal — the social media website and its siblings went completely offline.
The outage, which saw Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp go dark, lasted about six hours, marking the longest crash since 2008.
There have been reports that it was an expensive flub for both Facebook and founder Mark Zuckerberg, who reportedly lost more than $6 billion in personal wealth, knocking him down to No. 5 on Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index, after Bill Gates. Fortune estimated that between 11:30 a.m. E.T. and 7 p.m. E.T., Facebook, Inc., lost roughly $99.75 million in revenue.
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But Jessica González, co-CEO of Free Press, a non-profit that fights for justice in media and technology, tells PEOPLE that these dollar amounts are merely a “drop in the bucket” for the tech giant.
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“It was only a few hours,” González says of the outage, adding that Facebook doesn’t earn its revenue in a “linear way.”
“This is really just a drop in the bucket for Facebook,” she says.
As far as business owners, influencers and advertisers’ potential losses during the outage Monday, González has a pointed reminder: “Facebook is not the internet, especially here in the United States.”
“The folks who are conducting business over Facebook also probably have accounts on TikTok and Twitter — Etsy depending on what their business is,” González points out. “There are many ways for people to reach others with their businesses. It’s possible that a few folks were impacted in some sort of minor way. But again, because it was just a few hours, I doubt this has substantial impact on even the small business owners.”
González foresees another major news story involving Facebook — which happened to break just the night before the outage — as a greater threat to the tech giant.
“The news story that might actually impact Facebook’s bottom line is the whistleblower,” González says, referring to Haugen, 37, revealing her identity Sunday evening. Indeed, Fortune noted that while the outage is unlikely to scare off investors, Facebook’s stock dropped by nearly 5 percent after Haugen’s 60 Minutes interview.
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Haugen, a former product manager at Facebook, recently leaked internal research from Facebook to lawmakers and the Wall Street Journal, leading to a series of reports from the paper alleging that Facebook allowed the accounts of high-profile users to bypass its rules, allowing some to post material meant to incite violence or harass others; downplayed data that showed Instagram is harmful to young teens, namely girls; and made changes to its algorithm that made people “angrier,” among other allegations.
“The thing I saw at Facebook over and over again was there were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook. And Facebook, over and over again, chose to optimize for its own interests, like making more money,” Haugen said in the 60 Minutes interview.
Facebook has pushed back against this characterization: “Every day our teams have to balance protecting the right of billions of people to express themselves openly with the need to keep our platform a safe and positive place,” the company’s director of policy communications, Lena Pietsch, told CBS News in part. “We continue to make significant improvements to tackle the spread of misinformation and harmful content. To suggest we encourage bad content and do nothing is just not true.”
Facebook tweeted that it was back online just after 6:30 p.m. E.T Monday.
“To the huge community of people and businesses around the world who depend on us: we’re sorry,” the tweet said. “We’ve been working hard to restore access to our apps and services and are happy to report they are coming back online now. Thank you for bearing with us.”
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The company did not explain what caused their system to go down — TechCrunch reported that even their internal systems weren’t working Monday — but tech experts have explained that Facebook’s BGP (Border Gateway Protocol) routes had been withdrawn.
BGP is essentially the connective tissue of the internet, the routes that connect networks to one another. For an unknown reason, Facebook’s BGP routes were withdrawn, making its network undiscoverable by other networks. Because Instagram and WhatsApp are within Facebook’s network, they disappeared, too.
If anything, González contends, the outage serves as a “good reminder” that there are a plethora of other options when it comes to communicating online. “This is just another reminder that we need to diversify the way that we are communicating,” she says.
“We can’t rely on Facebook to help us. They can’t even keep their system up, never mind be honest about how much chaos they’re causing.”