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Why does Facebook go down so often?

Screen Shot 2017 03 07 at 07.28.16

Why does Facebook go down so often?

If, like me, you were up and about like a spring chicken in the small hours of this morning, you may have noticed that Facebook was out of action for a good half an hour between about 6:30 and 7:00 am.

The website Outage.Report confirms a huge spike in reports of problems accessing the social media site at around 2:00 am Eastern Time (which is five hours behind the UK) today, and that the UK appeared to be the epicentre of this early morning Facebook frustration.


Such disruption is not uncommon; on August 26, the site received 1,805 reports of difficulty accessing Facebook at what would be around 3:00 pm in our time zone. Most of these complaints came from the Eastern US states, so it’s probably not a case of Facebook being more ‘down’ than usual at this particular time, but rather that a large population of people were affected in this highly tech-oriented part of the world, coupled with the inconvenience of it taking place on a Saturday morning there.

Nevertheless, Outage.Report identifies that Facebook has had three ‘red’ days (when reports of outage have been significantly higher than usual) within the past three weeks, which begs the question of why this hugely popular and powerful site appears to be having intermittent problems with simply staying online.

In 2010, Facebook left around 135 million users unable to update their statuses, share their photos or use any of its other most popular services for a full two and a half hours. The site then had a fairly smooth few years before it suffered its longest outage since that incident in June 2014, going down for 31 minutes. This morning’s downtime topped that by my reckoning, although there have actually been a few longer periods of Facebook inertia since.

Annoyingly, Facebook tends to be quite wishy-washy in its explanations of these blackouts. The 2010 shutdown was attributed to a software flaw, with Facebook explaining that an automated tool designed to fix the flaw ended up making it worse, and the severity was such that the site had to be taken down while engineers worked on it. The 2014 outage was not explained at all, with Facebook simply admitting it had “experienced an issue” and elaborating no further.

When websites go down, it always triggers concerns of cyberattacks, but Facebook is usually quick to dismiss the suggestion. Rumours of a third-party attack after an outage in 2015 were denied by Facebook, which instead said it was down to a configuration systems change. Cynics, however, may suggest that Facebook might be inclined to keep quiet about the matter even if it was targeted by hackers.

Perhaps we have to accept that Facebook sees a huge amount of traffic from all over the world, is always making changes and is in operation 24/7 throughout the year, so outages of an hour or so here and there should be put into perspective. Still, with even the half-hour outage in 2014 calculated at costing the company around $500K (£372K), three sizable reports of downtime in the space of 21 days are likely to have Facebook bigwigs gnashing their teeth in vexation.

John Murray
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