Facebook Outage Left Latin America Dark, Where WhatsApp Dominates

While many people around the world coped with the Facebook and Instagram outage by making lighthearted jokes on Twitter, the incident had more serious consequences for WhatsApp users in Latin America.

Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram are now back online after millions were unable to access the social media sites or messaging app for several hours on Monday. The company said the issue was down to a faulty configuration change.

While the social media giant and the apps it owns were suffering issues, people on Twitter—which worked fine throughout Monday's outage—noted that WhatsApp not working would overwhelmingly affect people in Latin American countries where it is used by a majority of the population.

According to Global Web Index's 2020 Social Media User Trends Report, 93 percent of those aged 16-64 in Argentina use WhatsApp, as well as 92 percent of Colombians in the same age group, and 91 percent of people in Brazil.

WhatsApp has become popular in Latin American countries as it offers free Wi-Fi messaging to others on the app. As noted by eMarketer, because of a lack of competition, mobile phone tariffs in Latin America are some of the highest in the world.

The app has also become an invaluable tool for those wanting a free and easy way to keep in contact with relatives who have moved to the U.S. WhatsApp is also more likely to be used by people of all ages compared to other messaging services or apps.

By 2023, more than 94 percent of Hispanic smartphone users in the U.S. will have WhatsApp installed, eMarketer predicts. In comparison, there were a reported 68.1 million WhatsApp users in the U.S. in 2019—roughly 20 percent of the entire population.

José Caparroso, an editor at Forbes, tweeted about how the WhatsApp outage would overwhelmingly affect those in Latin America.

"Latin America lives on WhatsApp. I am surprised by so many people underestimating how catastrophic this downfall has been," Caparroso wrote.

New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez replied to Caparroso's tweet to state that large sections of the internet should not be so centralized to just one company, while calling for Facebook to be broken up and regulated.

"It's almost as if Facebook's monopolistic mission to either own, copy, or destroy any competing platform has incredibly destructive effects on free society and democracy," Ocasio-Cortez tweeted.

"Remember: WhatsApp wasn't created by Facebook. It was an independent success. FB got scared & bought it.

"If Facebook's monopolistic behavior was checked back when it should've been (perhaps around the time it started acquiring competitors like Instagram), the continents of people who depend on WhatsApp & IG for either communication or commerce would be fine right now. Break them up."

A similar sentiment was also expressed by journalist and author Dan Gillmor.

"There is only one hot take about Facebook/Instagram/WhatsApp today that matters: It is insane to put your business, or your key communications or anything else, in the hands of a single platform that can be brought to its knees, whether by internal error or outside vandalism," Gillmor tweeted.

"What's happening in Latin America and other places where WhatsApp is THE major method of digital communications, for example, is way way worse than the inability of U.S. FB users to post a picture or share some clickbait."

In a statement addressing the outage, Facebook's VP of Infrastructure Santosh Janardhan said: "People and businesses around the world rely on us everyday to stay connected. We understand the impact outages like these have on people's lives, and our responsibility to keep people informed about disruptions to our services.

"We apologize to all those affected, and we're working to understand more about what happened today so we can continue to make our infrastructure more resilient."

whatsapp latin america
A man checks his phone in Mexico City on October 4, 2021. - Facebook and its Instagram and WhatsApp platforms were hit by a massive outage, impacting potentially tens of millions of people as users flocked to other networks to sound off. ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images