#whatsappdown: When 2 billion people stopped talking

Despite “security” reservations people have about the service, none of the other messaging apps come even close to the kind of heft WhatsApp commands

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Published: Tue 25 Oct 2022, 9:04 PM

Last updated: Tue 25 Oct 2022, 9:27 PM

The virtual world almost stood still. WhatsApp, the social media messaging app that almost 2 billion people use worldwide (and this stat has been trotted up despite it being officially banned in China, that’s home to more than 1.4 billion earthlings), faced an outage, and services were down for a few hours. As is the case with technology, outages are part of the deal. But for a few hours, it felt that all forms of communication protocol had broken down. Timelines like these can be considered, at best, blips, but, strangely, they seem like eternity because all of us had suddenly stopped talking.

Data crunchers have arrived at some figures pertaining to WhatsApp’s usage, which are almost startling because they make you wonder what kind of messaging system we indulged before the app came into being… did we know what ‘being communicative’ even meant? “Around 4.2 billion messages [are sent] per hour, 69 million per minute, and more than 1.1 million per second”. WhatsApp, other than being a one-on-one means to stay in touch, is used for work and as a community device to engage with like-minded peers. Imagine a carpool WhatsApp group where stakeholders wait patiently for a ping to signal to them that the car will be arriving in five minutes. That alarm wasn’t sounded yesterday for many people — some of who didn’t even have an idea that WhatsApp was down. Did the driver have to put in a call to tell them what they would have normally told them via a ping?

“Ping me” is the most frequently quoted line these days when it comes to telling someone something is imminent or a way to disseminate information: “We’re on our way”, “the meeting just got postponed by a couple of hours”, “I will be coming late to work”. ‘Pings’ usually have a WhatsApp connotation — simply because it is the most widely-used messaging app. When someone says they’ve pinged you, you don’t check your SMS inbox or your Messenger — you straightaway infer it’s WhatsApp.

When yesterday’s outage burst onto the scene hashtag #whatsappdown trended furiously on Twitter, “with more than 70,000 tweets and hundreds of memes flooding the internet” reported one website. All of it goes on to indicate that despite “security” reservations people have about the service, none of the other messaging apps come even close to the kind of heft WhatsApp commands. We can talk about how so-and-so messing service has better facilities, is more encrypted, is more trustworthy, but then nothing succeeds like success. Having said that, the outage time period may have been a good zone to introspect. What is it that makes us go into viral panic that cannot be talked out?

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