For most people, the recent Facebook outage – which also removed Facebook-owned Instagram and WhatsApp – was little more than a temporary annoyance. You don’t have to look any further than the many viral memes to see that it was mostly seen as a nuisance that would soon pass.
But the outage had far more serious consequences for the millions of WhatsApp users in Latin America, where messaging apps are deeply embedded in everyday life.
From healthcare to government services, WhatsApp is king.
For many people, WhatsApp is little more than a platform on which we receive a warm GIF of buenos dÃas or prayer messages from our tÃas. It has also become a hotbed of disinformation in the Latino community, particularly around the pandemic and politics. But for millions of people across Latin America, it’s a lifeline to the digital world.
While most in the United States use a native messaging app to get things done (like iMessage), in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America, WhatsApp is the default messaging app. Here in Mexico, I use it daily to communicate. Do you want to book a restaurant? WhatsApp. Need a confirmation code for your bank? WhatsApp. Waiting for your doctor’s test results? WhatsApp.
In fact, according to the Social Media User Trends 2020 report, 93% of people aged 16 to 64 in Argentina use WhatsApp, along with 92% of Colombians and 91% of Brazilians. These numbers are incredibly high.
So when it collapsed, you can imagine the chaos that followed.
After the outage occurred, many doctors found themselves unable to share images and results with patients or even coordinate schedules. Some small business owners have found themselves without a way to manage day-to-day operations as all business communications are done through the app. Friends here rely heavily on Facebook and WhatsApp for government updates regarding the local elections and also information on the Covid-19 vaccination – that flow of information has completely stopped.
Perhaps most important was the flow of remittances. Many friends rely on WhatsApp to receive confirmation codes to collect money sent by family to the United States. Without access to the app, many were forced to queue at places like Western Union.
The response from experts and politicians has been swift.
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted a statement saying that a large corporation should not have so much control over our internet access, and called for Facebook to be dismantled and regulated.
âIt’s almost as if Facebook’s monopoly mission to own, copy or destroy any competing platform has incredibly destructive effects on free society and democracy,â AOC tweeted.
âRemember: WhatsApp was not created by Facebook. It was an independent success. FB got scared and bought it.
Many people doing business on social media were also looking for new ways to run their business.
When it comes to small businesses, many people rely on a network of tools owned and operated by Facebook: from the Instagram storefront to the Facebook marketplace. So when the blackout hit, many realized that they were really at the mercy of the tech giant. And after losing sales for almost an entire day, many are reexamining the way they do business.
One of these companies, Crafted by Alex, owned by Alex Rankin, relies entirely on the network of platforms to make money. But in an interview with Buzzfeed NewsRankin said she was reassessing her strategy.
âI plan to have my own website soon so people can order it,â Rankin said. “I can’t control Instagram.”
Although there is no official figure on the financial impact of the blackout, early estimates point to the losses amounting to at least $ 100 million.
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