Yes, it’s not your imagination — the internet is running slowly, with problems

Apple and Facebook have both had problems in the past 24 hours. Hopefully they’ll be cleared up by the time you read this, but no, it wasn’t you. These links as examples:

Almost all iCloud services down for some users including Photos, Mail, Backup, Find My Friends, Contacts, Calendars, more [U]

Internet outages are not simply a joke. The world has adapted to using these platforms as an essential part of communication.

Internet outages are getting more serious

It’s fun to joke when Facebook goes down — but it can have real consequences

The Interface will be off Thursday for the 4th of July holiday.

Facebook spent the last day before a long weekend like so many of us, abruptly shutting down without its boss’ permission and without any regard for its coworkers. Jake Kastrenakes reports:

Facebook has had problems loading images, videos, and other data across its apps today, leaving some people unable to load photos in the Facebook News Feed, view stories on Instagram, or send messages in WhatsApp. Facebook says it is aware of the issues and “working to get things back to normal as quickly as possible.” It blamed the outage on an error that was triggered during a “routine maintenance operation.”

The issues started around 8AM ET and began slowly clearing up after a couple hours, according to DownDetector, which monitors website and app issues. The errors aren’t affecting all images; many pictures on Facebook and Instagram still load, but others are appearing blank. DownDetector has also received reports of people being unable to load messages in Facebook Messenger.

The official explanation for the outage was that the aforementioned routine maintenance operation “triggered an issue,” so hopefully that clears things up. As discussion of the outage hit its peak, Twitter’s direct message feature stopped working, though in fairness Twitter never actually did say what caused the DM problem.

A silver lining to the outage was that it made some typically hidden parts of Facebook briefly visible. Most notably, it gave users a glimpse at the automated captions that Facebook creates using machine learning — a valuable accessibility feature for visually impaired people. James Vincent wrote it up, tongue firmly in cheek:

So if you browse through your uploaded photos, instead of seeing holiday snaps or pictures of food and friends, you’ll be shown text saying things like “image may contain: people smiling, people dancing, wedding and indoor” or just “image may contain: cat.”

In short: this is how your life looks to a computer. This is how Facebook’s AI is judging you. Do you feel ashamed before the all-seeing digital eye?!

Social media outages have been unusually frequent this year. In May, Facebook experienced what may have been its worst outage ever. As my colleague TC Sottek noted at the time, Facebook regularly describes itself as critical infrastructure for modern society — making any outage problematic, and the company’s typically opaque explanations for them unsatisfying.

Elsewhere, internet outages are proving to be more strategic. Myanmar’s Rakhine State has disabled access to the internet amid ongoing ethnic conflict, Hannah Beech and Saw Nang report. Whether the move is designed to promote stability or quash dissent is up for debate:

Government-mandated internet or social media shutdowns, which have occurred with increasing frequency in places like Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Sudan, are often deemed necessary for silencing the kind of innuendo and rumor that causes online mobs to catalyze real ones.

But such telecommunications embargoes can be designed to foil members of the political opposition as well. And they can particularly hurt vulnerable communities in conflict areas, who depend on internet connections to keep them out of the crossfire or publicize abuses in remote locations.

Whenever a social network experiences a failure in the United States, Twitter lights up with jokes about the terrible inconvenience we’re all experiencing. (Unless it’s Twitter itself that has gone down, in which case the conversation moves to Slack.)

But as more of life comes to depend on platforms, I wonder if a day will come when the jokes stop coming. In America, Facebook goes down and we all have a chuckle. In Myanmar, it’s already a crisis.

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