Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp down in widespread outage

Facebook’s main apps were experiencing widespread problems on Monday, cutting off access for people around the world to some of the internet’s most widely used services.

By midday California time, there were numerous reports of users unable to view or post on the main Facebook and Instagram apps, send messages through the Messenger and WhatsApp services, or reach the website of virtual reality service Oculus.

More than three hours after signs of an extensive outage first appeared online, Facebook had revealed little about the extent of the problem or when its service would be restored. It said only that it was “aware that some people are having trouble accessing our apps and products”. 

Users turned to rival social media service Twitter for what sparse information there was. In a tweet posted by its various apps, the company said it was “working to get things back to normal as quickly as possible”.

It was unclear what had caused the outages, or whether the company had been the target of a deliberate attack, though security experts said one potential cause was a technical mistake to do with how the company’s services had been configured. The problems came the day before a whistleblower who left the company earlier this year was due to testify at a Senate hearing.

Facebook’s shares dropped more than 5 per cent, more than twice the decline seen in the wider market on Monday, taking the total decline over the past month to 15 per cent.

Its shares have come under pressure over worries that changes to Apple’s privacy rules will limit the data it can collect for advertising purposes. Wall Street has also grown increasingly concerned about the threat of regulation, and Frances Haugen, a former Facebook product manager who has accused the company of putting “profit over safety” is scheduled to testify before a Senate committee on Tuesday.

Cyber security experts said the failure appeared to have been caused by a problem in the DNS, the global directory that matches the internet addresses users enter with the domains they are trying to access — a central part of the system for routing online traffic.

Users trying to access the company’s various websites received a “5xx server error” warning, a standard message returned to internet users when a server is unable to perform the task that’s been requested.

Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, joined in the social media pile-on against Facebook as the outage continued. In response to a tweet from whistleblower Edward Snowden, who used the outage to advise people to switch to messaging service Signal, Dorsey tweeted: “Signal is WhatsUp”.

As users turned to Twitter to vent their frustration, Facebook’s Messenger service tried to make light of the glitch. “Mercury in retrograde got the best of us,” it said in a tweet; a reference to an optical illusion that makes the first planet from the sun appear to be moving backwards when viewed from earth and which astrologers and horoscopes suggest causes disruptions and affects mood.

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