At $8bn per hour, the Facebook outage gave us a pause for thought

By Ian Silvera

Just two years into his fledgling company’s operations, Mark Zuckerberg faced a “turning point” as then internet behemoth Yahoo! offered him $1bn for Facebook. The social media platform had 10 million users at the time, it wasn’t obvious it would eventually be worth around $1 trillion and go on to amass two billion daily active users. Despite the uncertainty and the chance of becoming a multi-millionaire, Zuckerberg said no, built up his company and took it public in 2012.

The next turning points arguably came when Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014, eventually transforming the business into the one-stop-shop for social media. Facebook is now the behemoth which businesses, politicians, friends, family and everyone else rely on. They have outsourced their marketing functions, their contacts and their relationships to Facebook’s properties.

For its networking services, Facebook brings in revenues of around $28bn per quarter, making it a stock market darling. From a shareholder perspective, the company creates great financial value. From a societal perspective, Facebook’s value is increasingly coming into question.

The Facebook outage, which lasted six hours and wiped off around $50bn in the company’s market capitalisation, put that in perspective and provided another potential turning point for Zuckerberg.

It came after The Wall Street Journal’s allegations in ‘The Facebook Files’, a series of articles which painted a picture that the company had a cavalier attitude towards the potential negative mental health impacts of its platforms on children. Facebook hit back at the News Corp-owned outlet, claiming that it had “deliberately mischaracterised” its initiatives.

A plan for Instagram for Kids (aimed at under-13s), however, was shelved. “This will give us time to work with parents, experts, policymakers and regulators, to listen to their concerns, and to demonstrate the value and importance of this project for younger teens online today,” Adam Mosseri, Head of Instagram, explained.

Facebook described the move as a “pause” and that is what users of its social media platforms got on Monday and Tuesday, depending on where they were in the world. A pause for thought, albeit for six hours and unintended, of what role this one company plays in their home and work lives and whether that was good, bad, or indifferent.