The social media blackout that shook the world

About Fatu
By Fatu Ogwuche

Top of Mind. Happy Sunday!

What will you tell your grandkids you were doing during the social media blackout of 2021?

I reckon I’ll be sitting around a campfire powered by a VR headset in the year 2051 and telling my grandkids about how the world conjured up conspiracy theories for a blackout that was caused by a simple configuration change.

Humans love drama.

3 big things:

  • The blackout that shook the world
  • Google bets on African startups
  • Apple is fighting back

The social media blackout that shook the world

Photo credit: RR

The short: On Monday, after a router update went south, Facebook and its family of apps –Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger, and VR headset Oculus experienced a blackout.  

What it means: Depending on where in the world you’re reading this newsletter from, for the majority of Monday, you couldn’t post Facebook updates, no Instagram to binge on #bodygoal pics and folks couldn’t reach their loved ones on WhatsApp either! 

Facebook’s Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer explained away conspiracy theories: 

This outage was triggered by the system that manages our global backbone network capacity.

During a routine maintenance job…

A command was issued with the intention to assess the availability of global backbone capacity, which unintentionally took down all the connections in our backbone network, effectively disconnecting Facebook data centers globally.

Why it matters: There are 2.85 billion users of Facebook, 2 billion monthly active users as of March 2020 on WhatsApp, and over 1 billion active users on Instagram, according to Statista.  

For most people across the world, their interaction with the internet starts and ends with these apps. It also supports the running of economies in the global south – ranging from delivering primary healthcare, facilitating education to conducting businesses. In some cases, it reportedly impeded evacuation efforts in troubled Afghanistan.  

For all the conspiracy theories about why the apps shut down, there were real, economic consequences. 

By the numbers: Facebook’s stock plunged 5%, with almost $50 billion wiped off its value.  

Big Picture: The blackout came only a day after Frances Haugen, a former product manager at Facebook, revealed her identity as the whistleblower who leaked several company documents to the Wall Street Journal.  

Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg had this to say: 

The argument that we deliberately push content that makes people angry for profit is deeply illogical. We make money from ads, and advertisers consistently tell us they don’t want their ads next to harmful or angry content. And I don’t know any tech company that sets out to build products that make people angry or depressed. The moral, business and product incentives all point in the opposite direction. 

Final thoughts: The blackout of Facebook’s family of apps illustrates how central social media platforms are to our lives and how much power tech companies wield over global economies.

The impact of the blackout is not lost on Facebook. The promise on their part is to consistently conduct review processes to make its global backbone networks resilient. 

Google bets on Africa, again

Google CEO Sundar Pichai | Photo credit: CNBC

The short: Google will invest $50 million across five years into early and growth-stage African startups as part of its $1 billion commitment to tech-led initiatives on the continent. 

What it means: Google is increasing and expanding its support for business on the continent via its Africa Investment Fund. The tech giant will provide equity investment of various sizes to high-growth African startups.  

Google funding: This is only Google’s latest effort to support the tech ecosystem on the continent. In 2017, Google’s Startups Accelerator supported over 80 growth-stage startups and raised $100 million. Nigerian unicorn, Paystack was a beneficiary.  

Inclusiveness: Aware of the white privilege that trail black founders on the continent, it announced that 50 black founders would share an equity-free $3 million. Each will receive up to $100,000 with perks such as credits on cloud storage, and 40% of the startups will be women-led.  

What’s more? This Africa Investment Fund is open to applications from startups outside the big four [South Africa, Kenya, Egypt & Nigeria]. Google will take equity in the successful startups and provide them with access to its employees and technologies. 

Final thoughts: This is an excellent move from Google – investing in Africa’s digital transformation and getting in the good graces of African governments – sure way to not get banned.  

Plus, there’s nothing African governments love more than someone else paying for something they should pay for. So now, they can go spend money on other illustrious endeavours like offshore investments and overseas vacations.

Apple vs. Epic: Apple pulls an ace

Apple CEO Tim Cook | Photo Credit: SCMP

The short: Even though Apple tagged the result of September’s square-off with Epic Games as a “resounding victory”, the company filed an appeal of the ruling, asking for a stay on the injunction that will allow developers to link outside payment systems in its App Store. 

What it means: If Apple wins the stay in November, the change may not take effect until the appeals in the case have finished, which may take years. 

Why it matters: In what seems like Epic’s only victory in the antitrust trial by Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, this delay tactic by Apple dashed the imminent hope of developers’ finding cheaper payment alternatives to Apple’s in-app purchases.  

A dilemma: Apple’s insistence against opening its App Store to alternative payment systems violates California’s anti-steering rules. However, the company gave reasons for its thinking: 

Links and buttons to alternate payment mechanisms are fraught with risk. Users who click on a payment link embedded in an app—particularly one distributed through the curated App Store—will expect to be led to a webpage where they can securely provide their payment information, email address, or other personal information.” 

Final thoughts: I haven’t read a law journal since I studied for my bar finals nine years ago, so I can’t make predictions on the letter of the law.

However, Judge Gonzalez Roger’s ruling wasn’t just about developers but also about consumer protection. It is about giving Apple users the choice of cheaper payment options for in-app purchases. And this could make it hard for any superior court to overturn.

Market Trends

Market Trends | Big Tech This Week

Market Watch: Here’s how the stocks of companies, which dominated the news this week performed as of market close:

Facebook (Ticker Symbol: FB)

  • Facebook shares slid 1.3% to $329.22 on Thursday but recovered to end the week at +0.83% at market close.

Apple (Ticker Symbol: AAPL)

  • After launching an appeal against the ruling of its case with Epic Games, Apple shares bottomed out at -0.27% to $142.90 this week compared to competitors.

New feature spotlight!

Photo Credit: Twitter

New feature alert: Twitter is launching a vibes check feature to let users know what they are getting themselves into. An interesting version of testing the temperature of the pool with one foot before diving. 

How this works: The limited test started rolling out this week to iOS and Android users. Before joining a conversation, you will receive prompts to give you a heads up if the conversation you are about to get into could become heated or intense. Verdict: Twitter is a minefield, and it does get pretty intense. This new feature is part of the company’s goal to promote “conversational health” to help encourage healthier debates and conversations.

That’s it for the week. See you next Sunday!

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