What does this recent outage show us about news access?
By Mike Flunker, Editor-in-Chief
Recent Whalesong editorials have emphasized a balanced media diet, critical thinking, and news engagement. It is time to look at access to news. We live in a time when media saturates
our everyday lives, beamed straight
to our phones, computers, radios, and televisions. We may take that for granted. What happens when part of that system vanishes?
On Oct. 4, Facebook and associated services Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger, and Oculus, went down. For about six hours no one could access the apps, websites, or even use Facebook credentials to log into other services not owned by Facebook.
So what do we do when a section of the internet closes itself off to us?
I found myself routinely opening my Instagram, only to find the same three posts. It took over an hour to break
that habit of checking it when I felt
bored. Other social media users took to alternative platforms like Twitter or TikTok to discuss what was going on.
“I hope Instagram never comes back,” a close friend confided in me.
For some of us, social media may
feel like a social connection space, for others, myself included, it’s a bad habit that I spend too much time on. Beyond that, this outage affected millions of people worldwide as they lost the ability to communicate and do business, Associated Press reported.
And despite other social media and communication platforms being present, this outage demonstrated just how much the world depends on Facebook as the internet has evolved in the 17 years since Facebook was created.
On the day of the outage, Facebook
had asked a federal judge to dismiss an antitrust complaint from the Federal Trade Commission.
Facebook’s reasoning was that it “faces vigorous competition from other services,” according to Associated Press.
The FTC’s antitrust suit claims that Facebook’s anti-competitive policy
of buying potential competitors like Instagram and WhatsApp before they became larger violates trust law. In places like Latin America, WhatsApp is relied
on heavily for communication, and this outage left many unable to communicate, according to Bloomberg.
“It’s almost as if Facebook’s monopolistic mission to either own, copy, or destroy any competing platform has incredibly destructive effects on free society and democracy. WhatsApp wasn’t created
by Facebook. It was an independent success. FB got scared & bought it,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, wrote on Twitter the day of the outage.
Aside from a new perspective on antitrust regulations, the outage came the day after Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen appeared on “60 Minutes”, a news magazine program
on CBS. She provided thousands of documents putting Facebook on blast for a number of issues. Haugen, a former data scientist at Facebook, appeared before the Senate Oct. 5 to give further testimony on these issues.
Haugen said Facebook harms
children, sows division and undermines democracy in pursuit of breakneck growth and “astronomical profits,” NPR reported about Haugen’s Senate testimony. The Wall Street Journal published a number of investigative reports that they dubbed “The Facebook Files” in October 2021.
“Facebook Inc. knows, in acute detail, that its platforms are riddled with flaws that cause harm, often in ways only
the company fully understands,” the beginning of the “Facebook Files” reads, published on Oct. 1.
You can expect more coverage from Whalesong as this story develops.