On the Social Media Blackout

On Monday, October 4, a social media blackout caused the digital world to come to a startling halt. Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp all went down simultaneously for six hours. After one of the worst outages the company has ever experienced, Facebook blamed the disruption on one wrong command. For many users, it was not just the online world that slowed to a stop. The outage also affected personal lives, as social media is a vital tool used to stay connected.

Social Media = Social Life

The impact social media has had on our social lives is undeniable. It is no question why social media blackouts affect us; so many aspects of our lives are online. What we read on the web informs our politics. Our economic lives are largely in digital spaces—more so now with the advent of cryptocurrencies and digital banking. Even our personal lives are deeply entrenched in technology. So many have found a sense of place within online communities. With the help of Facebook, older generations have been able to reconnect with childhood friends and long-lost family members. Younger generations have found other like-minded individuals through platforms like Reddit and Twitch where they can discuss everything from politics to video games.

The question is, what happens when these apps we depend on go down? What are the implications of a life lived online? In the past year and a half, so many people have turned to digital platforms as a means of communicating. At a time when in-person gatherings were prohibited, it was necessary. Because of the pandemic, there are many that still have not been able to see their loved ones that live in other corners of the world. So, what happens when social media spaces—the only means for communicating—go black?

During the Blackout

One answer is that people will turn to alternative platforms. Because Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp (all owned by the same company) have basically become a tech oligarchy, they have monopolised the social media world. Their status as a such a monumental tech giant has allowed them to do away with any sort of competition. During the blackout, though, people were desperate to touch base with their families. Downloading more apps seemed like the only option—especially for those trying to get in touch with people in a different country. In an interview with The Guardian, one man explains how he got his 66-year-old mother to download Discord—a popular communication app that is used widely by those in the video gaming community. Additionally, some start-ups saw the outage as an opportunity to make their way into the digital arena and present themselves as an alternative to Facebook.

Another person interviewed by The Guardian said that the social media blackout caused them to stress and worry because they had been relying on WhatsApp for a group project at university. Their assignment was due the next day, but the outage was ongoing. He and his classmates were forced to finish it the following morning. As opposed to the US, a large portion of the population in the UK and EU use WhatsApp as their primary resource for communication. Most do not rely on their phone providers for texting and calling. They instead use WhatsApp for this, as it is a free service. This is especially handy when speaking with people outside of the country, as international services can be so expensive.

It was not everyone’s reaction to desperately grasp at straws for a way to communicate digitally, though. The Guardian article also mentions a woman who viewed the blackout as a liberation. She welcomed the opportunity to connect face-to-face with her loved ones. When the apps were down, there was less time to be distracted by their intrusive nature.

Social Media and Finance

And what does all of this mean for the finance world? For starters, the stock value of the largest social media company in the world dropped. This led to a loss of around 7 billion dollars for CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. The cryptocurrency conversation is also largely reliant on social media platforms. Many users gain finance information from people they follow on these sites.

Additionally, social media is used for more than personal matters. Businesses use it for marketing, to post important updates and offers, etc. More than that—some restaurants even take table bookings through these platforms. In India, the word ‘Facebook’ is interchangeable with ‘the internet’. So, when Facebook is down, many businesses lose out on sales. Those six hours of no social media presence have the potential to cost businesses rent, electricity, etc. Of course, an economy relying on one piece of technology for so much is an unsustainable business model. When looking at this issue from a global perspective, this is even more unsustainable. It is not just a single country’s economy, but the global economy. It is dangerous for the health of the world’s finances to rest entirely in the hands of one corporate conglomerate.

Where Do We Go from Here?

The social media blackout made two things clear. 1) We rely too much on these apps. 2) This reliance gives far too much power to those that do not have our best interests in mind. The latter is evident because the day that Facebook went down coincided with the day a whistle-blower outed Facebook for putting profit over safety. Therefore, the most important thing to remember for situations like these is the popular investing tip: don’t keep all your eggs in one basket. Do not rely solely on social media for finance tips and crypto advice. Have a back-up. The importance of a trusted, qualified, and reliable financial expert is not to be overlooked. Get in touch with us today to discuss your financial goals.