Global Facebook outrage lays bare Central America’s dependence on the platforms

Photo by Brett Jordan

For over seven hours on Monday, beginning at around 15:30 GMT, Facebook and its subsidiaries (namely, Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram) became completely inaccessible worldwide. The outage—which Facebook confirmed to be the result of an accidental internal server error, rather than a hack as some observers had initially suspected—wiped 5% off Facebook’s stock price and $6 billion from its founder, Mark Zuckerberg’s, personal wealth. In Central America (and Latin America more broadly), this episode demonstrated how profoundly people depend on these platforms. There have been numerous testimonies of small-business owners and street vendors across the region whose operations grounded to a halt, as they rely on Facebook’s platforms to communicate with their customers. There have also been widespread reports of Central American migrants in transit or at refugee camps who were unable to access governmental and emergency services, since WhatsApp was their only means of doing so. In Latin America, due to a lack of competition within the telecommunications sector, mobile phone plan prices are consistently ranked as “some of the highest in the world.” Given that Facebook’s platforms can be accessed freely and easily via Wi-Fi (even with a weak connection), and Facebook has reached deals with several of Latin America’s main mobile carriers to exempt its applications from data charges, the platforms have developed into an indispensable part of daily life, used by nearly 85% of the region’s population. “Latin America lives on WhatsApp. I am surprised by so many people underestimating how catastrophic this downfall has been,” remarked José Caparroso, a Colombia-based editor for Forbes, capturing the sentiments of many across the region. 

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