It’s not often that a website crashing makes international news. But that’s what happened this week when Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp all went down, leaving millions — if not billions — of people in a panic.
On Monday, as the global drama played out, I was out of the loop and had no idea anything was amiss. I spent my morning shopping and in the afternoon I walked my dogs to my parents’ house and we hung out in the backyard for a couple of hours.
I was largely disconnected from my phone, at least for social media, and only heard about the outage when I got home and read the first draft of our entertainment headline show for Tuesday morning. It was about celebrity reactions to Facebook and Instagram. Before that, however, I was completely in the dark.
You see, I’ve made it clear in recent years that I have no interest in broadcasting every minute of my life. Yes, you could consider me a “public figure” because I’ve been a newspaper columnist for 18 years, a syndicated radio host for 15 years and a bestselling author for 10 years.
But, if you care what I had for breakfast today, or want to know that my blender died on the weekend and I got a new one from the store on Monday, or that my cousin is having relationship drama but I side with her boyfriend — you’ll be disappointed ’cause I ain’t got time for running and posting about it. Bottom line: I don’t think you should care that deeply about my life because I don’t care that deeply about yours.
I’m the person who wrote a book called Put Down Your Damn Phone Already several years ago, and my Instagram bio even says I have no interest in being there but because I’m in the media, I’m forced to be. So, I couldn’t help but laugh when I did some research to see how people were melting down over the outage. While many users remarked it was a relief that the platforms were down, you could tell they actually missed it. Why else would they have jumped right back on as soon as all systems were going again?
As an employer, I’d be happy a major distraction for my employees was temporarily disabled. I’d have expected workplace productivity to have increased with Facebook and Instagram being down. It was actually the opposite, according to my friend who works in an office full of people.
“I think them going down was worse than if they were up and running,” she said. “Everybody was going around asking each other if their Facebook worked and then it was being talked about all day. Once people knew everything was down they kept refreshing their pages to see if it was back on. It was more distracting than having them operating normally.”
I jokingly say that I have a life and therefore was unaware that anything was happening. That attitude was met with criticism because many governments and businesses rely heavily on those communication channels for their respective audiences. I understand and appreciate that, but at the same time I think it’s a stupid decision to not incorporate other channels.
Years ago, when we started posting photo, video and audio content from our syndicated radio shows, I insisted we have our own websites and platforms. Sure, we had photo galleries on social media but they weren’t our sole distribution channels. Why? For this exact reason.
Look what would’ve happened if we’d been posting all of our content on MySpace years ago and suddenly the world abandoned that platform. Would we have lost the content and been forced to start from scratch elsewhere? We would’ve but thankfully we’d already created websites and our own channels. Thus, we wouldn’t be at the mercy of a page getting shutdown or a company going under. If for some reason our web-hosting company folded, we still had all the design files and we’d just move to someone else.
Throughout the pandemic, many organizations had to shift to social media as a communication tool. Showing versatility probably kept some companies in business. And I’m not taking anything away from those who do business on social media. Our company has an e-commerce store with a lot of traffic coming from social media. But that’s not the bread and butter. If it is, it’s a bad business strategy.
Perhaps this week’s trending topics #FacebookDown and #InstagramDown made millions of people take a pause and think about the social media giant. For as much as people said it was a relief to have the platforms go down, did they really mean it? Did that six hours change anything for them in the long term? Probably not.
Did we see people proclaiming that it gave them a new sense of life and a freedom to disconnect from their device so they shutdown their pages? Not that I saw. In the end, will it have done anything to encourage people to reclaim their life and privacy? Maybe to discuss the idea of it but not to act on it. And that’s just too bad they don’t have the courage.