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'It's a huge deal': UW professor examines impact of global Facebook outage on companies and users

The outage presented a rare opportunity: a look at life without access to Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram.

SEATTLE — At the University of Washington's Center for an Informed Public, Director Jevin West says the department may spend the next year studying the impacts of Monday's Facebook outage.

"It's a huge deal in the technology world," said West.

The outage presented a rare opportunity: a look at life without access to Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram.

"I wish we could run one big, huge survey and ask, 'How did you feel afterwards, not being able to access this platform?'" said West.

The apps were all down for more than six hours on Monday. Facebook posted a statement that said the outage happened because of "configuration changes on the backbone routers that coordinate network traffic between our data centers caused issues that interrupted this communication. This disruption to network traffic had a cascading effect on the way our data centers communicate, bringing our services to a halt."

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West believes, with nearly 3 billion users, the outage likely meant millions of businesses lost a main source of communication to customers. Some users likely felt a sense of withdrawal, as communities have become reliant on social media.

"Your small mom-and-pop businesses that relies on marketing their t-shirts or the silverware they're selling. If they depend on Facebook and it goes down and they lose users during that five or six hours that it was down, that can cost them a lot of money," said West.

He believes the outage opened an opportunity for users to reflect on the relationship society has with social media.

"Not being able to quickly check-in and see how people are reacting about the fact that Facebook is down, that was probably pretty severe. I imagine some people either had a nice reprieve or felt pretty uncomfortable during that time," said West.

The Washington Emergency Management Department said the outage should be a wake-up call that the apps are not reliable in an emergency.

"Ask for phone numbers. Texting can even work better than calling. And having an out-of-area contact is super important, too," wrote the Washington Emergency Management Department on Twitter.

"We are quite dependent on these communication channels. I guess the question we should ask as a society is should we rely on just one or two or three platforms? Are there other ways to build resiliency in our information systems?" said West. 

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