How the Facebook Outage Impacted Developing Nations That Rely on WhatsApp: 'Really Hurt People'

Nic McKinley, the founder of DeliverFund, explained to PEOPLE how people in developing nations and underserved communities can face additional hardship if they lose access to social media platforms

In this photo provided to The Associated Press, members of the Afghanistan national girls soccer team are seen on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021, in Lisbon, Portugal.
Afghanistan Girls Soccer Team. Photo: AP

While the outage of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp on Monday posed an inconvenience for many social media users, it could have caused more severe issues across the developing world, an expert tells PEOPLE.

Nic McKinley is the founder of DeliverFund, a nonprofit normally focused on fighting human trafficking. Recently, he used WhatsApp to help coordinate the evacuation of the Afghanistan national girls soccer team after the country fell to the Taliban last month.

On Monday, McKinley explained to PEOPLE that there are several ways in which people in developing nations and underserved communities can face additional hardship if they lose access to social media platforms, like WhatsApp.

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"They're not free to download Signal or other comparable apps. So now their communications are completely exposed to their governments," he told PEOPLE. Signal is a messaging platform that allows for secure communications with end-to-end encryption for groups and individuals.

Not having access to a secure messaging platform doesn't only impact dissidents, or those who might be trying to hide their communications from the government, McKinley added.

"If you're a regular person who is trying to figure out what the best price for your goats are, you are impacted," he said. "The world has really taken technologies for granted, so most likely they don't have a backup for that group on WhatsApp that crowdsources the best goat prices at different markets. That now isn't available, so that person needs to take the risk for going to the wrong market."

Afghanistan Girls Soccer Team

Others who may be severely impacted by these social platforms going offline include human trafficking victims and refugees. For example, in Afghanistan, people use WhatsApp to communicate about Taliban checkpoints, McKinley explained.

"The crowd exists on platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook, and in some ways in the developed world that can be bad," he told PEOPLE. "But, in the developing world specifically, the crowd protects itself by sharing information."

McKinley said the hours-long outage "could really hurt some people."

However, he also acknowledged there are scenarios in which less access to social media can keep some people safe.

Last year, a United Nations committee found that human trafficking through the internet had risen globally amid the coronavirus pandemic. Online, perpetrators have easy access to potential victims and are able to keep their own identities hidden "through social media, dark web and messaging platforms," the committee said.

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McKinley told PEOPLE on Monday that "social media is also the no. 1 entry point for human trafficking." So, during an outage, these online operations are shut down — at least for a few hours.

"For the first time in history, a non-familial man, who is 40 years older than the child he is going to exploit, who is 6,000 miles away, can interface with a 12-year-old girl at the very moment she says she is mad at her dad — at the very moment of vulnerability," he said. "That never happened in the history of the world till the modern era. That's why we have seen such a proliferation of human trafficking."

He concluded, "So, in some ways this is good. In other ways, this is bad."

Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty

Monday's crash marked the worst outage for Facebook since 2008 when a bug caused Facebook to be offline for nearly a day, according to CNBC, which also reported that there was an hour-long outage back in 2019 when Facebook blamed the issue on a server configuration change.

The three Facebook-owned apps appeared to come back online around 6 p.m. ET. The tech giant has yet to say what caused the hours-long outage.

"To the huge community of people and businesses around the world who depend on us: we're sorry," Facebook tweeted shortly after its apps were restored. "We've been working hard to restore access to our apps and services and are happy to report they are coming back online now. Thank you for bearing with us."

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, two Facebook employees told The New York Times on Monday that "it was unlikely that a cyberattack caused the issues."

Experts at ThousandEyes, a company that monitors network infrastructure and troubleshoots app delivery, said on Twitter that it believes, "the Facebook application became unreachable due to DNS [Domain Name System] failure."

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