A Glimpse at the Internet Without Facebook

  •   Mackenzie Sheely

By Mackenzie Sheely

Facebook went down and things got weird

Catastrophe hit last Friday, August 1, and some internet users were sent into a full-blown frenzy
(well, for a half hour). Facebook went down at 12:01 p.m. on Friday, resulting in thousands of tweets from disgruntled Facebook users unable to log into their accounts. While frustrated tweets are understandable, some Los Angeles residents took their panic to the next level, and began calling 911 to voice their concern. Yes, you did in fact read that correctly. This became such a problem, that Sgt. Burton Brink of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department was forced to take to Twitter to ask for the calls to stop.

LASD Tweet

While I understand that people today are heavily reliant on social media, inability to watch your friend’s video of a toddler break dancing with a puppy does not constitute an emergency. When asked if his tweet was a joke, Sgt. Brink later responded that "we get calls all the time like this, cable TV, all sorts of things not working, they think we control." LA tends to get a bad rap, but when things like this happen, I mean... come on.

Web Traffic Sans Facebook

Some people at a company called Chartbeat, however, saw this downtime not as a reason to panic, but as an opportunity to monitor what web traffic would look like without Facebook. Traffic on news sites dropped by 3% during the time of the outage, and Facebook referrals plummeted by almost 70%. Referrals didn’t drop to 0 as you may have thought, most likely because some people had Facebook pages open before the outage occurred.

Chartbeat Chart

Chartbeat was also able to monitor “dark social” traffic during this time. Dark social traffic refers to the sharing of content that occurs outside of social media platforms, or what can be measured by Web analytics programs. Dark social includes links that are sent via email and other online messaging. What was learned from this study was that very little dark social traffic was coming directly from Facebook. At most, 16% of dark social traffic can be directly linked to Facebook, based upon the data that was recorded. This doesn’t mean that all 16% of that dark social traffic came from Facebook, but it does strongly suggest that 84% of dark traffic is not coming from Facebook. 

What you can take away from this outage is that web traffic in a world without Facebook would be slightly different, and maybe more importantly, that some people can be really stupid.

Header photo by John Liu