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Letter to Readers: A brief, contented silence

In this century of change, we’ve gone from CD players in cars to satellite playlists on voice command, from paperbacks to Kindles at the beach, and from folded-up newspapers at the bus stop to faces lit in the glow of mobile device screens.

The news Monday morning that “Facebook is down” kindles a vague hope that those faces might be pressed again to newsprint. (CNN reported at about 5 p.m. Monday that Facebook services were restored, at least in part.)

Those who write the news and commentary for newspapers (and their online versions, of course) might not be blamed for whatever schadenfreude, or pleasure at another’s misfortune, that came with the temporary hobbling of Facebook – for celebrating over those six hours that gone was the preponderance of incorrect, inflammatory, and untrustworthy “content” found on Facebook.  Not quite “Death Takes A Holiday,” but for some just as jarring. (Or maybe just like it.)

For many, the synchronicity could not be ignored: Facebook was sidelined at the start of National Newspaper Week (Oct. 3-9). Friday’s edition of the News-Register will bring more about this annual observance. True, lots of gaming got silenced, as did users’ ability to share news of events and community gatherings -- the healthier side of Facebook.

There’s tempting opportunity for conspiracy-theory speculation that this was not some grand glitch but a self-imposed shut-up by Facebook itself just hours after the CBS News’ 60 Minutes interview with a whistleblower pointing out alleged craven behavior by Facebook, particularly regarding the Instagram arm so popular with the youth of the world.

According to New York Times, Facebook’s apps — which include Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Oculus — began displaying error messages around 11:40 a.m. Eastern time Monday, users reported. “Within five minutes, Facebook had disappeared from the internet. Hours later, the sites were still not functioning, according to Downdetector, which monitors web traffic and site activity,” the Times report

We ask, how many Facebook users (are they ever called “readers”?) will recognize the irony in the numerous tentacles of social media freezing up at that very moment? News organizations observe Newspaper Week to celebrate their role in the national forum, something that so often feels usurped by the machinations of Facebook and its siblings.

The Times reports, “Technology outages are not uncommon, but to have so many apps go dark from the world’s largest social media company at the same time was highly unusual. Facebook’s last significant outage was in 2019, when a technical error affected its sites for 24 hours, in a reminder that even the most powerful internet companies can still be crippled by a snafu.

“This time, the cause of the outage remained unclear. Several hours into the incident, Facebook’s security experts were still trying to identify the root issue, according to an internal memo and employees briefed on the matter. Two members of its security team, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said it was unlikely that a cyberattack had taken place because one hack was unlikely to affect so many apps at once.”

We know the temporary outage of Facebook et al was disruptive for many, yet through it all, news publications including the News-Register remained available at news stands and the websites stayed up and running.

Social media in its early days was heralded as “a breakthrough in human communication and understanding,” according to “Why We Need A Community Forum,” from Brian J. Allfrey, Executive Director of Utah Press Association. He writes as part of National Newspaper Week that social media “has moved beyond connecting people to the single most polarizing platform in this country … Think of the negativity, hate, fear and bullying in your feed. There is no discussion or civil discourse,  just polarized ideas …”

- Kirby Neumann-Rea, managing editor

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