Facebook blamed a massive outage that stretched into Thursday morning on a server configuration change.
The world’s largest social network said it has resolved the issue, which affected millions of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp users starting Wednesday.
“We made a server configuration change that triggered a cascading series of issues. As a result, many people had difficulty accessing our apps and services,” the social media giant said in a statement. “Our systems have been recovering over the last few hours.”
Server configuration describes how the parameters of a computer system or program are set up. These in turn can govern how traffic is routed and what happens to it within the system.
For a network as large as Facebook, resetting configurations is a delicate operation. One misplaced instruction can sometimes result in a cascade of problems, with one portion of the network being told to do something incorrectly.
Internet companies experience occasional outages, but this one was remarkable for its global spread and duration, lasting nearly 24 hours. The outage intermittently interrupted service on all of Facebook’s apps, making it the worst outage in the company’s history.
A Facebook outage in 2008 which lasted about a day affected many of its 80 million users. Today Facebook has about 2.3 billion users who log into the service at least once a month. Facebook estimates that 2.7 billion people use its various apps and more than 2 billion log into these services every day.
The problems began spreading at about 11 a.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday. Users reported service disruption around the globe, but the outage appeared to be most pronounced on the East Coast and in the U.K., according to DownDetector, a service that monitors outages. Facebook said Thursday the problem was triggered by a change it made to its server settings on Wednesday.
On Wednesday, some Facebook users got a message that the service was down for maintenance. Others could log on but their news feeds were empty or they could not post updates. At times, updates from friends were visible but users could not comment or like them. On Instagram, profiles would not load. WhatsApp users reported not being able to send messages.
The service interruption had a substantial ripple effect, affecting access to some services where users log in with their Facebook credentials. Users of Oculus virtual reality devices also reported having problems.
Frustrated users flocked to complain on Facebook rival Twitter, where one of the trending topics on Wednesday was #FacebookDown.
It’s not known what specific error occurred. But this is not the first time server configuration changes have wreaked havoc and, given the complexity of these systems, it’s unlikely to be the last.
Last November, some but not all users were hit with a 13-hour outage on Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. At the time, Facebook said “Earlier today, a server configuration caused intermittent problems across all apps globally creating a degraded experience for users. The issue has since been resolved, we are back to 100 percent for everyone and we’re sorry for any inconvenience.”
Instagram announced early Thursday that service had been restored. At 12:41 a.m. ET, Instagram alerted its users with a tweet that said, “Anddddd… we’re back” accompanied by a jubilant gif of Oprah Winfrey.
The outage affected millions of advertisers who rely on Facebook and Instagram to connect directly with consumers. Brand marketers tweeted Wednesday that Facebook’s ad-buying system was also down. Facebook said Wednesday that it might offer refunds to some advertisers.
The down time was likely very costly for Facebook. Facebook is projected to generate average daily revenue of about $189 million based on 2019 sales estimates, according to Bloomberg News.
It was not the only bad news Facebook received on Wednesday. The New York Times, citing unnamed sources, reported that a New York grand jury has issued subpoenas as part of an investigation into Facebook’s consumer data sharing deals with other tech companies including Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Samsung.
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