What a day: Frances Haugen blew the whistle on “60 Minutes,” journalists released parts of the Pandora Papers—and then Facebook crashed.
I am not even sure who was the most frustrated individual. Was it Zuckerberg because he lost billions of dollars? Or do we have to feel sorry for journalists worldwide who were excited to share their articles on the Pandora Papers?
And what about me? I wasn’t even able to post my vegan burger to my Instagram story.
But jokes aside, there is a lot to unpack here.
I was standing next to a friend who complained that WhatsApp wasn’t working for him. But our friend Google informed us that he wasn’t the only one experiencing problems. A few minutes later, we noticed that Instagram and Facebook were also not working.
So, I did what almost everyone did; I checked Twitter.
And then I realized what actually just happened: we noticed how much we depend on these big-tech giants.
I wasn’t able to communicate with my beloved partner. I immediately worried about my colleagues at Elephant Journal not being able to share new articles, and to be honest, my brain went into panic mode as I asked myself, “What happens if Facebook is gone forever?”
The first memes were already trending on Twitter. Folks were making fun of everyone who works on social media. And, of course, the first conspiracy theories about what happened started trending on other platforms like TikTok, Telegram, and Signal.
It was a wild evening. And then, everything slowly started working again.
So, let’s all get back to business—well, I don’t think so.
I am not able to say if there was a connection between the Pandora Papers and the technical problems on Facebook; I also don’t know if it had anything to do with Frances Haugen’s interview on “60 Minutes”—but I do know that these three things happening on one day taught us how vulnerable our concept of normality actually is.
Here are five things I learned the day social media was down:
1. We all need a break.
I was on my way home when it happened. As I wasn’t able to check my news feed, I was forced to take a look at the world around me. I was just standing there watching the sunset, and it was actually quite nice. It reminded me of the time when I went to high school and often had to wait for a bus, train, or someone to pick me up.
It used to be normal to have these natural breaks—but it rarely happens these days. The moment we have to wait for something, most of us immediately grab our phones and start scrolling.
Maybe I was much happier as a teenager because I was forced to feel bored several times a day? What makes me fill every silent moment of my life with meaningless content posted on social media?
2. I am not the only one who spends too much time online.
After Zuckerberg’s platforms went down, many people basically insisted on not taking a break. I saw folks creating Twitter and TikTok accounts at a record speed.
And then, #Twitterdown started trending on Twitter. Soon after that, people started reporting problems accessing their bank accounts, and others had to deal with their internet provider going offline. I asked myself, “What if this is the end of the world as we know it?”
But then I took a deep breath and paused for a minute. Today, I can laugh about myself panicking, but I am also sure that I wasn’t the only one feeling this way.
We are talking about six hours without knowing what would happen next—imagine the same situation, but for a week.
3. Other platforms are also spreading misinformation.
We can say a lot about Facebook and its evil algorithms, and there is a lot of truth to that, but we also have to admit that it’s a general problem of our society that is not only caused by Zuckerberg and his actions.
The moment Facebook went down, #GreatReset started trending on Twitter. Folks on Telegram started worrying about the internet getting switched off. And many people around the world shared the claim that Facebook was gone forever because they accidentally deleted everything.
Today, we know that none of this happened. But it all somehow made sense last night, right?
It only took six hours to create a new set of conspiracy theories about what happened. Just imagine what would happen if this went on for a week.
4. We have to decentralize the internet.
It’s not news that our addiction to social media is a problem, but we almost never talk about what the world would look like without social media.
It’s one thing to say that we should quit using Facebook and Instagram, but another to ask, “What shall we do instead?”
Of course, we could go back to one-on-one communication via traditional phone calls and emails. But what would that mean for authors, musicians, and other content creators?
If we like it or not, almost every business model somehow depends on social media these days. Local shops need to reach their clients, and creatives need a platform to share their work.
Putting all our eggs in one basket seems to be a risky strategy, but what other options do we actually have?
Solely relying on Facebook already created a bunch of problems in the past. Every change in the algorithm causes folks to panic and forces companies to come up with new strategies. Maybe it’s time to take the power back.
How about creating smaller communities that are based on what we care about?
Instead of scrolling mindlessly on big-tech platforms, we could also download the Elephant Journal app and start our days reading articles written by authors who we personally know.
5. Big-tech doesn’t really care about us.
While the world was trying to figure out what actually happened, I asked myself one question, “Where is Zuckerberg?”
Seriously, a short statement on Twitter apologizing for the inconvenience is not what I expect from a multibillion-dollar company in a situation like this.
Zuckerberg tries to present himself as a philanthropist who wants to enable everyone on this planet to use the internet, but it’s quite obvious that he also wants to make money in Africa, Asia, and South America.
As Frances Haugen explained on “60 Minutes,” big-tech mainly cares about making money—even if it harms society in one way or another. We should always keep that in mind when using it.
I won’t delete my social media accounts anytime soon, and I am not suggesting that to anyone—but we need to change the way we look at these services.
We are not able to change Zuckerberg’s behavior, but we can be more mindful about what we do every day.
The algorithms might show us content that is only confirming our already existing opinions. Your feed looks different than mine. But nobody forces us to click on stuff showing up on our feeds. Nobody holds us back from using the search bar and deciding whose content we want to see.
It’s not stalking when we look up someone’s profile to see what they are sharing—it only shows that we care what they have to say.
Why would we let Zuckerberg and his crew tell us what we care about? Maybe it’s time to stop mainly using the news feed and start actively looking for the content we care about?
I am not saying that we should never scroll again, but how about slowly shifting away from that habit? Why not listen to one person we care about for 10 minutes instead of giving one minute of attention to 10 people we don’t even know?
Our attention is a gift to everyone who creates content; let’s not throw it around like confetti.
Every minute we spent reading someone’s article supports their work, every song we listen to supports an artist, and every share supports someone somewhere.
Actually, our behavior also determines how social media companies design their algorithms because they want to make money in the first place. If they found out that hate, fake news, and sex are triggers that make us click on something, why not prove them wrong?
If everyone cared about equal rights, climate change, and social justice as much as we often pretend, the almighty algorithms would probably adjust accordingly.
Social media showed us how low we could go as a society because it amplified our worst traits. What if we can take that as a lesson and take the power back?
The Black Lives Matter movement is just one example of using social media for good things. Greta Thunberg wouldn’t be the most famous teenager on this planet without social media. And many of us wouldn’t be able to share our work with others without Zuckerberg’s empire.
Let’s try to take the power back by changing our own behavior.
It’s worth a try. Every change starts with awareness of a problem.
And just in case you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor and listen to Frances Haugen: