For quite a long time (almost a day) on July 3, 2019, it seemed that the world had fallen back to a pre-visual age.
What happened? The core service owned by Mark Zuckerberg, namely, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger, refused to send and load images, videos, and other data across the internet. The whopping total of 2.7 billion users were forced to find different (maybe more amusing…) ways of interacting.
On a more serious line, we must accept the fact that social networks have become an utility: they are as much ingrained into the very fabric of our daily lives as water or electricity or public transportation are. What does this imply? Should policymakers regulate Facebook’s service levels as it happens worldwide for more traditional services?
The question is controversial, because it would require forcing social media into twentieth-century categories and legal frameworks which are not necessarilty adequate, as Susan Crawford warns us. And it would also mean that yes, we now depend on social media for our lives to go on normally.
Well, this is precisely the case. Let us admit it: we cannot any longer afford to do without these new sense organs of ours.
It is not only that “some people are having trouble uploading or sending images, videos and other files on our apps”, as Facebook condescendingly explained from its Twitter account. As somebody aptly put it, when social networks go down, the global economy goes with them.
And there is more to that. Failure at the world’s most important digital company can hardly be shrugged away as normal business, argues T.C. Sottek. It is the very fabric of our society that is torn apart.
- In the first quarter of 2019, Facebook’s chief global security officer told Business Insider that it “is the critical infrastructure for modern-day democracy.”
- In his 2017 manifesto on Facebook as a “global community,” Zuckerberg said Facebook’s infrastructure would be necessary to end terrorism, fight climate change, and prevent pandemics.
- In his pre-IPO letter in 2012, Zuckerberg said “Facebook was not originally created to be a company. It was built to accomplish a social mission — to make the world more open and connected.”
Are you worried enough? Well, let us consider also that no matter how large they are, or how much mind-boggling are the heaps of money lavished upon fault-tolerance measures, the digital platforms are inherently fragile. A tiny bug in one of the many billions lines of source code lines can easily bring the most powerful amongst them to its knees.
Thus the outage of Facebook & co., with all the engineering and logistics might Zuckerberg has on his fingertips, can be as difficult to manage as a power grid blackout. And as much devastating.
This time, on a global scale.