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Can’t Phone Home: How the WhatsApp outage affected students

With the messaging app down, many students had no way to contact their families outside the U.S.

The logo of the messaging app, WhatsApp: a white phone on a green circular message bubble, with the text "WhatsApp" on a green background

On Monday, Facebook, along with associated apps Instagram and WhatsApp, shut down. But with WhatsApp shut down, it has become more difficult for students to communicate with families outside the U.S.

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Monday’s multi-platform media outage had vast global ramifications; Facebook and Instagram businesses suffered through over 12 hours of inactivity, and Facebook’s shares closed down almost 5% on Monday, according to CBS news. But self-reported “configuration changes on … backbone routers” crashed the main method for global communication for billions of users: WhatsApp.

Following Facebook and YouTube, WhatsApp is the third most popular social network worldwide, with approximately two billion monthly active users, according to Statista. Because the service relies on Facebook servers, the data crash on Monday closed off a very important means of communication that was felt around the world.

For some students, the collapse essentially isolated them from their international families. Talya Akpinar is one such student; she’s from Istanbul, Turkey, and said her family never uses apps like iMessage and FaceTime because they have WhatsApp.

My sister goes to school in Boston. We only use WhatsApp to call and stuff because it’s kind of what we’ve gotten used to. So when it went out the other day, it was so weird because I couldn’t talk to my parents or anyone for like 12 hours.

USC Annenberg Alumnus, Elizabeth Mayoral likewise uses the app to communicate with her family in Mexico, so its absence led to a very abnormal Monday.

With the outage, it was really, um, it was kind of frustrating, right? I think that’s the feeling that a lot of people got when social media went down. So, for example, I have friends and family in the United States that we use WhatsApp to communicate and we quickly switch to any other communication. For example, Twitter or also SMS like text messages, which was really weird.

The outage has sparked discourse over whether or not the app is the most stable means for communication.

Mayoral also said the fact that Facebook owns all of these different social networks is a cause for concern.

I think yesterday, the outage made us really reflect or really think about how a company can own all of that and how it impacts all of our lives. Because just with a glitch, or maybe with how one company just went down all of our communication, we couldn’t communicate, we couldn’t do nothing and communicate with our families.

While global errors like the one on Monday are few and far between in the broader tech scheme, its effects may reshape the way international students relate to their kin from afar. And although WhatsApp is back to normal now, some users may be a little warier of where their data ends up in the future.