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October 5, 2021

On the 4th of October, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp all powered down. No one was scrolling, uploading or sharing for hours, but what actually caused this issue?

Phone with social media icons crossed out on screen

This isn’t the first time this has happened, back in 2019 there was an outage for over 24 hours, although Facebook didn’t give much away, pinning it on a ‘server change configuration’, but what happened this time?

Although we don’t know the exact technical problem, we do know it is related to the Domain Name System (DNS). The DNS essentially links the user to what they are searching for, so when someone types ‘google.com’ into a web browser, the DNS finds the correct IP address for the website they’re searching for. Their web browser then uses the IP address to communicate with the origin servers or CDN edge servers to access the website information.

So, when Facebook and co where down, it was because the DNS wasn’t making the connection to the IP address, meaning it couldn’t connect the user to its destination. As Facebook owns Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp, this problem was also affecting them as well.

Facebook owns the most downloaded apps of the last decade. From 2010 to 2019, Facebook was the most downloaded app, followed by Messenger, WhatsApp third and fourth was Instagram. Facebook purchased Instagram back in 2012 for a reported $1 billion. 2 years later they also bought WhatsApp for $19 billion.

When users loaded up Facebook or Instagram, they were shown the data their phone had already downloaded from when they were last scrolling, but nothing new was coming up. Facebook’s DNS problems wouldn’t just randomly happen, it was most likely a side effect of something like a server outage or possibly developer interaction. As Facebook owns and maintains its own in-house DNS, the outage also affected the team. Engineers and technicians were reportedly not able to fix the problem remotely, so they had to physically send people in to fix the issue from the server core.

Whilst all the Facebook owned apps were down, social media goers resorted to Twitter, and Twitter knew this! Other big brands also joined in the fun.

Twitter tweeting about the social media outage

 

At the time of writing this, the morning of the 5th of October, all seems to be running normally. Facebook has since released a statement in which it reveals that the problem was due to an internal technical issue and ensures that there is no evidence that any user data was leaked.

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