For five hours on one early October day, the world got a taste of life without Facebook and its apps.
In Mexico, politicians were cut off from their constituents. In Turkey, shopkeepers couldn’t sell their wares on Instagram. And in Colombia, a nonprofit organization that uses WhatsApp to connect victims of gender-based violence to lifesaving services found its work impaired.
The Facebook outage, caused by a technical glitch, demonstrated how essential the company’s services have become. Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger are more than a way to chat and share photos. For many people, they’ve become critical platforms for doing business, arranging medical care, conducting virtual classes, responding to emergencies, and much more.
In the U.S., Facebook is also used to sign in to many other apps and services, leading to unexpected domino effects, such as people not being able to log in to shopping websites or sign in to their smart TVs, thermostats, and other internet-connected devices.
In India, Latin America, and Africa, Facebook’s services essentially are the internet for many people: They function like a public utility, and people depend on them for much of the communication and commerce of daily life.
In Brazil, WhatsApp is on nearly every smartphone in the country. Restaurants take orders, supermarkets coordinate deliveries, and doctors, hairdressers, and cleaners book appointments with the app. During the pandemic, the app became a crucial tool for teachers to tutor students in remote areas of the country.
León David Pérez, a business owner in Mexico, says the internet has revolutionized the business world in the past 20 years.
“Now we are hyper-connected, but we rely on a few tech companies for everything,” he says. “When WhatsApp or Facebook are down, we all go down.”