Facebook, Instagram Outages a Sign of the Times

In today's tense geopolitical world, the initial thought about the cause of major outages is that they are due to cyberattacks. Fortunately, yesterday’s outages of Meta services appear to be the result of technical problems.

Facebook, Instagram Outages a Sign of the Times
(Credit: Izel Photography / Alamy Stock Photo)

Facebook, Instagram, and Threads users were hit with outages yesterday. The outages started late morning East Coast time, and services were restored by mid-afternoon. The outages came at a time of great anxiety. Between the war in the Ukraine, the conflict in the Middle East, and the U.S. Super Tuesday elections, initial thoughts were that the incident might be due to a cyber attack.

In fact, several malicious actor groups claimed responsibility for the outages. And some conservative politicians and groups believed the outages were designed to hurt former President Trump and disrupt Super Tuesday voting. Trump loyalist Roger Stone contended on Truth Social that it was convenient "two of the most powerful communication tools for grassroots politics in America suddenly stop working on #SuperTuesday, while all of Haley’s ads in print, radio, and television remain intact.”

Fortunately, the source of the outages appears to have been a “configuration error,” according to Meta spokesman Andy Stone in a post. Everything seemed to be back to normal within about two hours.

Putting the outages into perspective

Facebook, Instagram, and Threads users started having problems accessing their accounts late on Tuesday morning. Many were being logged out of their accounts with messages that their sessions had expired. And they were not able to log back in.

Downdetector reported it received more than 600,000 Facebook and 70,000 Instagram outage reports at the peak of the incident.

Network Computing checked Meta's status website when the news about the outage first came in. Besides Facebook, Instagram, and Threads, other Meta tools and services were impacted. They included Ads Manager, Facebook & Instagram Shops, Meta Business Suite, WhatsApp Business API, and Messenger API. All of these were tagged as “major disruption” on Meta’s status website. They were all back to “resolved” by late afternoon.

After the incident, Meta spokesman Stone released a statement about the source of the problems. “Earlier today, a technical issue caused people to have difficulty accessing some of our services. We resolved the issue as quickly as possible for everyone who was impacted, and we apologize for any inconvenience.”

No details have been released about what the technical issue was or how it was resolved. However, a similar incident in 2021 was caused by a technical issue affecting its Border Gateway Protocol (BCP) routing system. Back then, Facebook's VP of infrastructure, Santosh Janardhan, said in a blog post that due to that problem, they had "a cascading effect on the way our data centers communicate, bringing our services to a halt."

A final word on the outage and a word of caution

Today’s unsettled geopolitical climate and an escalation in large-scale attacks by malicious actors have everyone on edge.

The ransomware attack on Change Healthcare two weeks ago has caused major problems with pharmacy billing leaving many scrambling to get prescriptions filled or medical care approved. And the recent Red Sea undersea cables cuts were initially attributed to an attack by Houthis. Yet, about two weeks after the incident there is still no proof. (Ninety percent of all undersea cable cuts are due to accidents from a dragged anchor or commercial fishing gear.)

Yesterday's and a 2021 Facebook outage were both initially attributed to cyberattacks. Many thought the 2021 incident was caused by a major DDoS attack. In both cases, the cause turned out to be a configuration error for the 2021 outage and in yesterday’s case an unspecified technical issue.

Let’s hope a future accidental incident does not trigger a major retaliatory reaction before the facts are in.  

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About the Author(s)

Salvatore Salamone, Managing Editor, Network Computing

Salvatore Salamone is the managing editor of Network Computing. He has worked as a writer and editor covering business, technology, and science. He has written three business technology books and served as an editor at IT industry publications including Network World, Byte, Bio-IT World, Data Communications, LAN Times, and InternetWeek.

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