Here’s what we’ve learned so far about Facebook’s global outage

Facebook apps
Facebook suffered a massive outage on Monday. SOPA Images/Getty Images
  • Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp all went offline Monday for users globally.
  • Even the company’s internal communications tools went offline, slowing its ability to respond.
  • Here’s what we know so far about possible causes of the outage.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Facebook and some of its most widely used apps, including Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger, experienced a major outage affecting users globally on Monday.

Some services appeared to be back online for some users around 6 pm ET.

Some of Facebook’s internal communications tools also were knocked offline, adding another obstacle to the company’s efforts to get its services working again.

The outage even hit Facebook employees not directly involved in troubleshooting, leading Instagram chief Adam Mosseri to tweet that “it does feel like a snow day” for workers.

Here’s what we know about the outage so far.

What happened?

Around 11:45 a.m. ET on Monday, users around the world reported issues accessing Facebook apps like Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger, and Facebook itself, via the outage-tracking website Downdetector.

Facebook employees also have had issues accessing internal tools and even physical areas within the company’s offices.

“Devs can’t access their apps online to push new builds, no documentation, nothing. All Oculus platform services are down. No avatars as well,” a developer whose work includes Facebook platforms told Insider.

Facebook security employees also were slowed from assessing the incident because their digital badges stopped working, keeping them from accessing Facebook’s servers, according to The New York Times.

Other Facebook employees were locked out of IoT-connected conference rooms, NBC News reporter Kevin Collier tweeted.

What might have caused the outage?

While it’s early – and even Facebook is still looking into the issue – Facebook employees and internet experts outside the company have shared some initial theories.

A cyberattack likely wasn’t to blame, two Facebook security team members told The New York Times, because it would have been difficult for a single attack to target the wide range of underlying technologies impacted during the outage.

One possibility is an issue with the Facebook-run servers responsible for telling internet users where to find its content.

CloudFlare CTO John Graham-Cumming tweeted that “Facebook and related properties disappeared from the Internet in a flurry of BGP updates.”

CloudFlare describes BGP, or Border Gateway Protocol, as the “postal service of the Internet… responsible for looking at all of the available paths that data could travel and picking the best route.”

Just before Facebook’s outage, Graham-Cunning said, CloudFlare detected “a large number of BGP changes (mostly route withdrawals)” to Facebook’s autonomous systems – basically, the local post office branches.

CloudFlare explained its take in further detail in a blog post.

Security researcher Brian Krebs also said the likely culprit was a misstep on Facebook’s end that caused its services to drop off the internet’s map.

“The DNS records that tell systems how to find or got withdrawn this morning from the global routing table,” Krebs tweeted.

“We don’t know why this change was made. It could well have been the result of an internal, system wide change or update that went awry. It’s all speculation at this point why. FB alone is in control over its DNS records,” he added.

What’s the impact of the outage?

For one, the chain reaction it created was a major headache for Facebook’s employees.

As The Guardian editor Alex Hern explained in a series of tweets, much of Facebook’s own IT system depends on Facebook.

So, Hern said, if the company accidentally cut its servers off from the internet, that would have also impaired its ability to: “update” the internet with correct information, log into Facebook’s systems to send that update, use a digital badge to access the server room where Facebook’s systems are housed, and even send a message to the security team asking them to unlock the doors with a physical key.

Facebook’s services also power a substantial portion of the digital economy, meaning businesses who run Facebook and Instagram ads, and communicate with customers on the platforms were also caught up in the outage.

In many parts of the world, especially Latin America and India, WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app and is used widely for personal, professional, and political communication, meaning Facebook’s outage disrupted the ability of users in those regions to communicate with one another, as Forbes editor José Caparroso noted.

Responding to Caparroso, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pointed out that Facebook’s acquisition and subsequent integration of WhatsApp into its own infrastructure meant that vastly more of the global digital communications system depends on Facebook – and is impacted when it fails.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other shareholders in the company also had a rough day: Zuckerberg’s net worth dropped by $US7 ($AU10) billion on Monday as Facebook’s stock slid by roughly 5%.

The internet, however, had a field day, flocking to Twitter and other social media platforms to post memes making fun of the situation.

What is the company saying?

Facebook: “To the huge community of people and businesses around the world who depend on us: we’re sorry. We’ve been working hard to restore access to our apps and services and are happy to report they are coming back online now. Thank you for bearing with us.”

Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer also chimed in, tweeting: “*Sincere* apologies to everyone impacted by outages of Facebook powered services right now. We are experiencing networking issues and teams are working as fast as possible to debug and restore as fast as possible.”

Instagram: “Instagram and friends are having a little bit of a hard time right now, and you may be having issues using them. Bear with us, we’re on it! #instagramdown”

WhatsApp: “We’re aware that some people are experiencing issues with WhatsApp at the moment. We’re working to get things back to normal and will send an update here as soon as possible. Thanks for your patience!”