Facebook outage: publishers’ traffic increased up to 40%

And a technical explanation of what happened
Facebook outage: publishers’ traffic increased up to 40%

Digital publishers around the world, Twitter, TikTok and other social media all noted increased traffic on Monday when Facebook and its Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger were down for around six hours.

Downdetector, that tracks internet traffic, said 10.6 million problems were reported worldwide when Facebook’s 3.5 billion users were shut out. Facebook’s shares fell 4.9% and the management was out apologizing.

Margrethe Vestager, EU Commission’s vice president and responsible for competition, reacted to the lock-down stressing the need for competition:

“We need alternatives and choices in the tech market, and must not rely on a few big players, whoever they are, that’s the aim of DMA, (Digital Markets Act)” she tweeted.

Facebook is together with Google the world’s biggest sellers of online advertising and Standard Media Index estimated that Facebook was losing around USD 545.000 per hour during the approximately six hours that its services were down.

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Read recommendation company Outbrain in a blog said many publishers were seeing more than 40% week over week increases in traffic volume.

The problems meant that Monday was the second bad day in a row for Facebook. On Sunday, a whistle blower in a TV interview said she, as a former employee, had firsthand seen the company repeatedly prioritizing profit over clamping down on hate speech and misinformation

To every small and large business, family, and individual who depends on us, I’m sorry,” Facebook Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer tweeted.

Facebook later explained the outage was because of a “faulty configuration change”.

In a blog post Facebook explained that “the underlying cause of this outage also impacted many of the internal tools and systems we use in our day-to-day operations, complicating our attempts to quickly diagnose and resolve the problem.”

“Our engineering teams have learned that configuration changes on the backbone routers that coordinate network traffic between our data centers caused issues that interrupted this communication. This disruption to network traffic had a cascading effect on the way our data centers communicate, bringing our services to a halt.”

What is a DNS outage

Τhe Facebook outage is a gentle reminder that the Internet is a very complex and interdependent system of millions of systems and protocols working together. 

The Internet is literally a network of networks, and it’s bound together by Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), a mechanism to exchange routing information between autonomous systems (AS) on the Internet, giving big routers that make the Internet work huge, constantly updated lists of the possible routes that can be used to deliver every network packet to their final destinations. Without BGP, the Internet routers wouldn’t know what to do, and the Internet wouldn’t work.

BGP allows one network (say Facebook) to advertise its presence to other networks that form the Internet. The outage meant that Facebook could not advertise its presence, aka stopped announcing the routes to their Domain Name System (DNS) prefixes which are used to translate domain names into IP addresses so browsers can load Internet resources; as a result, ISPs and other networks could not find Facebook’s network and so it became unavailable.

As Facebook and their sites are so big, DNS resolvers worldwide were forced to handle 30x more queries than usual and potentially causing latency and timeout issues to other platforms.

People looked for alternatives and wanted to know more or discuss what’s going on. When Facebook became unreachable, Twitter, Signal and other messaging and social media platforms their DNS traffic spiking. 

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