Can you imagine a world where all the social networks instantly disappear and stay down forever?
I guess it's the world we've known before 2004 when Mr. Zuckerberg came up with the great idea that would allow us to stay in touch. I don't think his intentions ever went as far as Facebook actually made it. Since then, social networks have been slowly battling their way into our lives, taking over more and more territories, our time and our emotions.
For most of the day on Monday, Facebook and Instagram, plus the WhatsApp messenger, were down worldwide. (It’s not a secret that all three platforms that were out of service on Monday belong to the same company). For those who don't use social networks much, it sounds like a little bump on the road. But for millions of people whose businesses, work and often ego depend on them, it probably was a nightmare.
The popular social media platforms were down at about 10 a.m. and started slowly coming back to life just after 4 p.m.
It was less than 24 hours, even less than a day without our virtual social reality, but that outage created a massive wave of emotions and confusion that swept through the world. But all of the outcry was pretty predictable. We are attached to our virtual life and habits, sometimes even addicted, and many do depend on the platforms for work.
The interesting aspect is that the outage happened soon after CBS 60 Minutes aired an interview with former Facebook employee Frances Haugen. The interview was named Whistleblower: Facebook Prioritizing Growth over Safety.
If you haven't seen the interview, I recommend you watch it. It's pretty interesting. In it, Haugen explains how and why Facebook misleads the world on their progress against misinformation and violence.
We've been through a lot over the last almost two years, and that shatters anyone's nerves. But what I've also been noticing and what Haugen tried explaining in her research probably wasn't just a coincidence – throughout the last couple of years, people became way more polarized and way angrier in general. Most people. Even those, who were the calm ones, started to snap off when you touch topics, which wouldn't result in any reaction before.
I see it on Rant and Rave pages, I see it on Estevan Mercury page, but I also see it in real life. Even personally I notice that when someone starts sharing that "unique knowledge," another conspiracy theory, I get triggered and often get dragged into a conversation.
With comments on Mercury's page, even when we are sharing the most touching and positive news, the number of comments is always way below than it is under stories that provoke a heated discussion, usually with some word fighting.
But according to Haugen, Facebook's general policies are pretty different from those at the Mercury. The documents she copied while working for Facebook show that negative and triggering topics keep people around longer, thus creating more potential to generate money. However, this environment, filled with anger and poisonous informational, corrodes human relations in many aspects.
Some of the documents suggest that the company was well aware of the damaging effects negative information and misinformation have on society, but they actually implemented algorithms that instead of hiding or removing hateful, polarizing content, as Facebook said it would, actually show it to consumers more often based on their previous interests.
The negative information and conspiracy theories are enticing to people and keep them scrolling through the feed, interacting and consuming. And Haugen stated that the company realized that if they change their algorithms to make it safer, then users would spend less time on the platform, which means less interaction with ads and less money. So despite the knowledge about the negative effects, they opted for keeping the existing system.
She added that no one there is "malevolent," but incentives created to stimulate consumption are wrong.
The general response from Facebook can be summarized as people are getting angrier and angrier, and polarization has been growing between people in the U.S. for years, and the company actually does their best to keep them calm and positive.
On Monday, Facebook stated that it was faulty configuration changes on its routers as the root cause of the outage that kept the company's 3 1/2 billion users from accessing its social media and messaging services.
Nothing is simple or one-sided. While I believe there is truth to Haugen's words, it's not just social media that polarized, separated and filled people with anger. It's been tough and it's not over yet.
But after a day without the usual platforms, I did feel that I didn't really need them back. (Only if for work.)