Social media outage, addiction and lessons learnt

Monday October 11 2021
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Tony Musani

By Guest Writer

Last Monday, for more than five hours, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook messenger platforms stopped working. 

The outage, according to Facebook, was due to an error of “our [their] own making” caused by a server-gone-wrong/system upgrade interruptions.

On the same day, Downdetector, an online platform, which provides users with real-time information about the status of various websites and services, tweeted: “…the largest outage we’ve ever seen on Downdetector with more than 10.6 million problem reports from all over the globe.”

It indicated that the shutdown started at 6.25pm (East African Time).

Netblocks, another watchdog organisation that monitors cyber security and governance of the Internet, indicated that the outage cost the global economy $160 million and Facebook lost its share price by more than five percent ($7 billion) in matter of hours. 

Fortune, a US-based business magazine, claimed to have lost $11 billion in revenue following the six-hour long outage.

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At 7.20pm on the fateful day, Facebook tweeted: “We’re aware that some people are having trouble accessing our apps and products. We’re working to get things back to normal as quickly as possible, and we apologise for any inconvenience.’’ 

Although the communication cleared the air, the damage was already done.

But what does the outage say about social media addiction and the future. Are we leaving in a healthy world? Is online addiction a new cancer of the 21st century?

In Uganda, many people, who frequently use the platforms, were angry, in despair, and uncertainty was looming as a result of the shutdown.

Thirty minutes after the shutdown, a Ugandan social media user, Sweet Apple, tweeted: “I thought my phone had a problem, I restarted like 100 times. I updated my WhatsApp app, Instagram like 10 times, I bought data five times. I opened my YouTube, it was working, I had no option until I landed myself on Twitter, kumbe it’s the whole world….’’

This is just the tip of the iceberg that many other Ugandans experienced.

Facebook’s massive outage portrays a reminder of its monopoly over communications, an indicator that the company should be broken up.

Amanda Marcotte, an American blogger and journalist, who writes on feminism and politics, tweeted: “Yesterday’s (Monday) Facebook outage caused problems worldwide — some extremely serious. It also showed it is the right time to break up Facebook.’’

We also need to think of a world of leisure-free Internet. A time when you are totally free from the slavery of being online.  

In Nairobi, Kenya, Mwari wa wachira tweeted a day after the social media mayhem: “It teaches us a lesson that there is life beyond social media. Taking time to ask people how they are doing or spending quality time with tour partner, let us all change ourselves…’’

Mwari wa wachira and Sweet Apple’s experiences reveal the need for us to spend more time bonding with family than chatting with friends on the Internet.  We should juggle the world of social media and reserve time for our loved ones.

We must, also as a country, cultivate a culture of positive social media usage. 

For every parent, we should think of interventions on how to restrict social media misuse and addiction on our children. Now that students have been out of school due to Covid-19, many teenagers have spent most of their time online. Aren’t we losing the face-to-face conversations and what does this mean for the next generation?

It is high time we think of championing face-to-face conversations and minimise online chatting, or else we will lose all the verbal technics of speech in an ideal world.

Tony Musani

[email protected]


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