There’s nothing a brand with a digital presence loves more these days than being able to insert itself into the “cultural conversation,” and there was no bigger conversation Monday than the sudden outage of Facebook and is associated services Instagram and WhatsApp.
The outage lasted for much of the day, and there was initial speculation that the social media giant had been hit with a denial-of-service attack by someone angered by the damning 60 Minutes report the night before, in which a former employee said its executives knew about the platform’s role in spreading harmful content but chose to prioritize profits over people.
In a blog post on Monday evening, however, Facebook attributed the outage to a network configuration issue. “We want to make clear that there was no malicious activity behind this outage—its root cause was a faulty configuration change on our end,” read the post, which went on to stress that there was no evidence personal user data was compromised as a result.
Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg also offered a personal apology for the outage on his own Facebook page. “Sorry for the disruption today,” it read. “I know how much you rely on our services to stay connected with the people you care about.”
The outage proved an unexpected boon for Facebook’s social media rivals. According to Bloomberg, the private messenger apps Signal and Telegram saw downloads and sign-ups “soar” after the Facebook services went down, with Telegram alone moving up 55 places in the iPhone download chart.
Famed whistleblower Edward Snowden also tweeted that Facebook-owned WhatsApp being down should serve as a reminder to people that they should be using a more private, non-profit alternative like Signal, while Signal also tweeted out that signups for its service were “way up.”
Facebook-owned Whatsapp being down is a reminder that you and your friends should probably be using a more private, non-profit alternative like @Signalapp anyway (or another open-source app of your choice).
It's just as free, and takes like 30 seconds to switch.#facebookdown
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) October 4, 2021
Millions of new people have joined Signal today and our messaging and calling have been up and running but some people aren't seeing all of their contacts appear on Signal. We're working hard to fix this up.
— Signal (@signalapp) October 4, 2021
The outage was a galvanizing global event, and essentially turned Twitter into a playground for brands’ social media managers—providing them with a capital N news event to riff on without having to worry about facing accusations of being insensitive or disrespectful.
After all, other than being an annoyance to those people missing Uncle Ted’s vaguely racist posts or yet another #nofilter sunset pic, Facebook and its services being down caused no real societal harm (and in fact there were numerous tweets suggesting it was a good mental health day all round, and it was perhaps a good time to ask vaccine sceptics to get their shot).
Even Twitter saw the immense opportunity, issuing a tweet at 1:27 p.m. that read “hello literally everyone.” That led to a wave of responses from brands including Instagram, Tampax and Zoom, and suddenly the race for Twitter cachet was on.
hello literally everyone
— Twitter (@Twitter) October 4, 2021
The rest of the day was a free-for-all, with Canadian brands more than happy to play along. Harvey’s riffed on the ubiquitous Facebook birthday notifications with a tweet reading “Someone better fix Facebook quick before I miss someone’s birthday,” while Heinz Ketchup Canada seized the moment to promote its slow pour with a message reading “And people say we’re slow.”
And while consumer brands were falling over themselves to craft pithy takes on the situation, contributions came from unusual Twitter feeds like the Canadian Space Agency, which featured the famous Canadarm asking if it could lend a “helping arm” to the social media service.
We couldn’t help but feel just a little bad for Costco Canada on the day, however. The retail giant’s final tweet (which came way back on Nov. 6, 2019) said that it would no longer be monitoring and responding to conversations on Twitter. Instead, it invited people to visit its Facebook page to “join the conversation.”
No better time to pull out a book. Who is reading what? https://t.co/5dxzF2HrZr
— Indigo (@chaptersindigo) October 4, 2021
With Facebook and Instagram down, we’re ready to #readabook! What are you picking up today?
— Doubleday Canada (@doubledayca) October 4, 2021
me looking at the picture I was going to post today pic.twitter.com/vn5EqcuKUL
— Netflix Canada (@Netflix_CA) October 4, 2021
Twitter today : pic.twitter.com/BvTx1dvEcW
— Ubisoft Canada (@UbisoftCanada) October 4, 2021
Social media managers at work today pic.twitter.com/sWsom19w6K
— Motorola Canada (@MotorolaCA) October 4, 2021
We don't know who needs to hear this but… pic.twitter.com/0t5NXywU8d
— Canadian Space Agency (@csa_asc) October 4, 2021
— UMUSIC (@umusic) October 4, 2021
— Heinz Ketchup Canada (@heinz_ca) October 4, 2021
Someone better fix Facebook quick before I miss someone’s birthday
— Harvey's (@HarveysCanada) October 4, 2021
*half of social media shuts down*
me as the social media manager: pic.twitter.com/PfzWqbrvua
— McDonald’s🇨🇦 (@McDonaldsCanada) October 4, 2021
This would be a really good day to follow us on Twitter. #instagramdown
— lululemon (@lululemon) October 4, 2021
Should we just log off entirely today? Who’s in 🙋♀️
— Canada Dry (@CanadaDry) October 4, 2021
— Amazon Canada (@amazonca) October 4, 2021
FB, IG and Whatsapp are all down but we're still out here on TW mining content… pic.twitter.com/g4DezqmcRE
— Red Bull Canada (@RedBullCanada) October 4, 2021
We will no longer be monitoring and responding to tweets. Please visit us at https://t.co/nBSBCEdJK3 to join the conversation!
— Costco Canada (@costcocanada) November 6, 2019