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Technology

Facebook fights global outage and whistleblower revelations

Joshua Melvin - Agence France-Presse
Facebook fights global outage and whistleblower revelations
(FILES) this file photo taken on October 05, 2020 in Toulouse, southwestern France, shows logos of US social networks Facebook and Instagram on the screens of a tablet and a mobile phone. Major social media services including Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp were hit by a massive outage on October 4, 2021, tracking sites showed, impacting potentially tens of millions of users.
AFP/Lionel BONAVENTURE

WASHINGTON, United States — Facebook battled dueling crises on Monday as it faced a large-scale outage of its dominant social network for seven hours, and fought against a whistleblower's damning revelations.

Many long-held fears and criticisms about the platform seem to have been backed up by Facebook's own research, which ex-worker Frances Haugen has turned over to authorities and the Wall Street Journal.

But as US senators prepared for her highly anticipated Tuesday testimony on the documents, Facebook struggled to end an hours-long outage that potentially hit tens of millions of users across its platforms, including Instagram and WhatsApp.

Tracker Downdetector said it had received 10.6 million reports of problems ranging from the United States and Europe to Colombia and Singapore, with trouble first popping up around 1545 GMT. 

Roughly seven hours later, the services began returning online.

"We've been working hard to restore access to our apps and services and are happy to report they are coming back online now," Facebook said in a tweet late Monday afternoon in Silicon Valley.

Facebook had "reconnected to the global internet" as of 2228 GMT but it was expected to take a bit of time to get the social network's family of services back running smoothly, web security company Cloudflare said in a blog post.

Facebook has not communicated on the possible cause of the outage, but cyber security experts noted they had found signs that online routes that lead people to the social giant were disrupted.

"Facebook and related properties disappeared from the Internet in a flurry of BGP updates," tweeted John Graham-Cumming, the chief technology officer at Cloudflare.

During the outage, Mike Schroepfer, the company's chief technology officer, tweeted his "Sincere apologies to everyone impacted by outages of Facebook powered services right now."

Users trying to access Facebook in affected areas during the outage were greeted with the message: "Something went wrong. We're working on it and we'll get it fixed as soon as we can."

'Make body dissatisfaction worse'

Facebook has pushed back hard against the outrage regarding its practices and impact, but this is just the latest crisis to hit the business.

US lawmakers for years have threatened to regulate Facebook and other social media giants to address criticisms that the platforms trample on privacy, provide a megaphone for dangerous misinformation and damage young people's well-being.

After years of criticism directed at social media, without major legislative overhauls, some experts were skeptical that change was coming. 

"This is a situation where there's going to be a lot of smoke, and a lot of fury, but not a lot of action," said Mark Hass, an Arizona State University professor

"It's going to have to come down to the platforms, feeling pressure from their users feeling pressure from their employees," he added, noting authorities won't effectively be able to regulate content. 

Haugen, a 37-year-old data scientist from Iowa, has worked for companies including Google and Pinterest — but said in an interview with CBS news show "60 Minutes" that Facebook was "substantially worse" than anything she had seen before.

Facebook's vice president of policy and global affairs Nick Clegg vehemently pushed back at the assertion its platforms are "toxic" for teens, days after a tense, hours-long congressional hearing in which US lawmakers grilled the company over its impact on the mental health of young users.

Senators put the social media giant's Antigone Davis through the wringer last week over damning reports that Facebook's own research warned of potential harm.

Davis told lawmakers that a survey of teens on 12 serious issues like anxiety, sadness and eating disorders showed that Instagram was generally helpful to them.

Yet, Senator Richard Blumenthal read aloud excerpts from company documents he said were leaked to lawmakers by a Facebook whistleblower that directly contradicted her.

"Substantial evidence suggests that experiences on Instagram and Facebook make body dissatisfaction worse," he said, adding the finding was not a disgruntled worker's complaint but company research. — with Thomas Urbain in New York

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As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: January 16, 2022 - 8:55am

Get the latest news about Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms. Main image from by Pixelkult from Pixabay 

January 16, 2022 - 8:55am

Top bosses of Google and Facebook were directly involved in approving an allegedly illegal 2018 deal to cement their dominance of the online advertising market, US court documents revealed Friday.

The records, part of an anti-trust lawsuit by a coalition of US states targeting Google, make serious allegations against Big Tech giants long accused of holding monopolies.

According to the states' accusations, the online search colossus sought to oust competition by manipulating ad auctions — the ultra-sophisticated system that determines which ads appear on web pages based on the anonymized profiles of internet users. — AFP

January 2, 2022 - 9:27am

US authorities have asked telecom operators AT&T and Verizon to delay for up to two weeks their already postponed rollout of 5G networks amid uncertainty about interference with vital flight safety equipment.

The two companies said Saturday they are reviewing the request.

The US rollout of the high-speed mobile broadband technology had been set for December 5, but was delayed to January 5 after aerospace giants Airbus and Boeing raised concerns about potential interference with the devices planes use to measure altitude. — AFP

December 31, 2021 - 11:11am

Palestinian journalists have raised the alarm over what they describe as unjust suppression of their content on Facebook, a claim backed by rights groups but rejected by the social media giant.

On December 4, Palestine TV correspondent Christine Rinawi posted a video on her Facebook account in which Israeli security forces were seen shooting a Palestinian on the ground, killing him. He had just carried out a knife attack on an Israeli civilian. 

Shortly after she posted her video, Rinawi, who has nearly 400,000 followers, noticed it had been removed from her account. — AFP

December 17, 2021 - 10:38am

Facebook parent Meta bans a series of "cyber mercenary" groups, and begins alerting some 50,000 people likely targeted by the firms accused of spying on activists, dissidents and journalists worldwide.

Meta took down 1,500 Facebook and Instagram pages linked to groups with services allegedly ranging from scooping up public information online to using fake personas to build trust with targets or digital snooping via hack attacks.

The social media giant also started warning about 50,000 people it believes may have been targeted in more than 100 nations by firms that include several from Israel, which is a leading player in the cybersurveillance business. — AFP

December 10, 2021 - 10:47am

When website addresses using writing systems like Chinese and Arabic were introduced back in 2009, it was hailed as a step that would transform the internet.

But 12 years later, the vast majority of the web remains wedded to the Roman alphabet -- and ICANN, the organisation in charge of protecting the internet's infrastructure, is on a mission to change it.

"The truth of the matter is that even if half the world's population uses the internet today, it's the elite of the world -- mainly those living in cities, mainly those with a good income," Goran Marby, head of the US-based non-profit, told AFP in an interview. 

"Shouldn't we give people the opportunity to use their own scripts, their own keyboards, their own narratives?"

It's thanks to ICANN — the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers — that when you type an address at the top of the screen, your computer can find the web page you're looking for.

These days it's theoretically possible to type an address in more than 150 scripts, including obscure ones like ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, and watch the page load.

But large parts of the internet remain incompatible with writing systems other than the Latin alphabet. Many US websites, for example, would not allow you to make a purchase or subscribe to their newsletter if you entered an email address in Tamil or Hebrew. — AFP

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