The Great Facebook Collapse of October 4 2021 and What It Can Teach Us
Facebook and its associated services Instagram, Whatsapp and Oculus went down for several hours yesterday, coincidentally after a damning 60 Minutes interview with a whistleblower on the service. While this afforded a few hours of schadenfreude for many, myself included, others noted that there are lots of folks who actually rely on Facebook and its other services for day-to-day connection with family, friends, and community, and being locked out of that connection for any period of time is no laughing matter.
My thought about this is, these folks are not wrong, and also, this is not a state of affairs that anyone who can avoid it should put themselves into. Schadenfreude and joking aside, any single point of contact with the Internet is vulnerable to what happened to Facebook yesterday. Sites go down, DNS assignments get scrambled, servers get Fresca spilled onto them, and so on. Arguing that people rely on Facebook services is neither here nor there to the point that Facebook services will fail at some point (and have before), as will Twitter and Google and Apple and Microsoft services, and, really, any other site or service you can name. Everything goes down on the Internet. Usually not for long, and usually not with permanent repercussions. But long enough to mess with your day for sure.
The solution to this problem is (fairly) simple: backup systems and multiple points of contact for communication. You may notice you’re reading this on (or at least from) Whatever, which is on Scalzi.com, my personal site which has existed for 23 years. It’s outlived several social media giants, from AOL to MySpace, and hundreds of other lesser sites. No matter what happens to Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or TikTok in the future, Scalzi.com will persist as long as I continue to pay an ISP to house it. But if it goes down temporarily — I’m on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram. I can be found. I have backup.
I think everyone should have their own space not reliant on a rapacious social media giant intent on commodifying one’s existence to house it, and I happily pay to have my own. But I understand that’s not feasible for everyone. But almost everyone (and every business/group/association) can have multiple points of access, and — importantly — can let others know where they be contacted/where the group can go when the primary access point goes down.
So: If you’re a group who mostly connects by Facebook, also have a community space on, say, Discord, or a dedicated Web site that allows comments. If you have email via Gmail, have a backup email address via an ISP (or, in my case, the other way around), or through another service like Outlook. If you rely on Whatsapp, keep Skype or Google Meet in your pocket for emergencies (or, you know, text and phone).
Point is: whatever it is that you do on the Internet, have a second way to do it when the first goes down, and make sure people who need to, know how to get to it. No, it’s not necessarily going to be a 100% equivalent experience, but then, Facebook or Google or Twitter aren’t likely to be down forever (or if they are here in 2021, we’re likely to have larger issues to worry about). They don’t have to be equivalent, they just have to provide access and connection for a little bit of time, even if all one does with it is send a “don’t panic, I’m fine” message to others.
What having multiple redundant points of contact on the Internet does require is effort, which people don’t like to do — the whole point of social media and especially Facebook is that it is mostly frictionless (which is why your grandmother uses it, and why terrible political memes are so easily spread on it). But these are the breaks: You can make an effort, or you can be locked out for however long it takes your favorite social media provider to break into their own data services and remove the squirrel that has electrocuted itself in one of the servers, knocking out the service worldwide. Your choice.