By:
October 5, 2021

One of the best “Twilight Zone” episodes ever was one called “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street.” Aliens from outer space flick the power off and on and then watch while humans, frightened into paranoia over what’s happening, turn on one another. The aliens’ plan is to then easily take over Earth after people destroy themselves.

In today’s world, you wouldn’t cut off the lights. You would shut down Facebook. Then you sit back and watch everyone go delirious.

We got a test run on Monday.

Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger all went down Monday for about six hours from just before noon Eastern until about 6 p.m.

Many called it karma, seeing as how less than 24 hours earlier, a whistleblower for Facebook was featured on “60 Minutes” and in The Wall Street Journal, divulging some of the very worst of Facebook. Frances Haugen copied and released tens of thousands of internal company research that showed Facebook amplifies hate and misinformation and political unrest, among other harmful content.

Then came Monday’s crash.

The New York Times’ Mike Isaac and Sheera Frenkel wrote, “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. … 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 Facebook’s security team told the Times that it likely was not a cyberattack. Doug Madory, director of internet analysis for Kentik, a network monitoring company, told The Washington Post’s Rachel Lerman that it was likely Facebook’s border gateway protocol routes — or the paths that allow routers to exchange information. (Disclosure: Facebook provides funding to Poynter to support content and training to strengthen media literacy.)

The problem was not limited to the U.S. and it’s particularly unusual to have something like this happen for hours.

Madory told Lerman, “This is massive. It’s completely dead.”

Madory told CNN’s Clare Duffy and Sean Lyngaas, “I don’t know If I’ve seen an outage like this before from a major internet firm.”

How wild was it? It even impacted Facebook employees, who couldn’t access company emails, internal communications tools and, in some instances, their offices.

And while I was kidding about the “Twilight Zone” reference, Madory added how Facebook being down impacted many. “Facebook is the internet to them,” he said.

That’s true and, in many ways, disturbing. But it’s also unfair to say Facebook’s impacts are exclusively negative. And, let’s not forget, 3.5 billion people use Facebook, many of them in a very productive way.

In fact, the Times story quoted Mark Donnelly, a startup founder in Ireland who runs HUH Clothing, a fashion brand focused on mental health that uses Facebook and Instagram to reach customers. Donnelly told the Times, “With Facebook being down we’re losing thousands in sales. It may not sound like a lot to others, but missing out on four or five hours of sales could be the difference between paying the electricity bill or rent for the month.”

That’s just one of countless businesses that rely on Facebook and its other apps to do their work.

Mike Schroepfer, Facebook’s chief technology officer, tweeted, “*Sincere* apologies to everyone impacted by outages of Facebook powered services right now.  We are experiencing networking issues and teams are working as fast as possible to debug and restore as fast as possible.”

It finally came back, restoring calm to the internet.

What did everyone do?

With Facebook down Monday, a 2018 Josh Schwartz story from Nieman Lab was making the rounds: “What happens when Facebook goes down? People read the news.”

On Monday, they also flocked to other social media sites, in particular Twitter. We heard plenty of voices with the same tired cliche when Facebook or some other social media platform goes down. They say things like, “Do we really miss it?”

While I understand the sentiment, and certainly we would not miss the very worst of what Facebook has to offer, there’s a difference between not having something for a day and not having it forever. I can go a day without eating a cheeseburger, probably even a week. But if you told me I could never have a cheeseburger again, we’d have some real issues.

And wasn’t it at least a little bit ironic that people showed up all over Twitter to poke fun at Facebook’s users for wanting their favorite social media platform?

Look, I’m not trying to come off as a Facebook apologist, certainly not after what we’ve seen over the past few days, weeks and months. I just found it a little humorous and hypocritical of those who flocked to Twitter to mock Facebook.

And, finally, check out this Jennifer Rubin column in The Washington Post: “It’s time to stand up to Facebook.”

Dead or alive?

Ozy Media CEO Carlos Watson, right, talks to NBC News’ Craig Melvin on Monday’s “Today” show. (Courtesy: NBC News)

So is Ozy Media dead or what? After The New York Times’ Ben Smith wrote a column last week, it started an avalanche of coverage that revealed questionable business practices. That included a CNN story by Kerry Flynn in which Ozy staffers alleged an abusive environment. Last Friday, Ozy CEO Carlos Watson said the company was shutting down.

But on Monday, Watson told “Today’s” Craig Melvin, “We’re going to open for business, so we’re making news today. This is our Lazarus moment, if you will, this is our Tylenol moment. Last week was traumatic, it was difficult, heartbreaking in many ways.”

In an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” Watson said announcing the company’s closing last week was “premature.” He added, “We have lots of things we have to do to improve, but I very genuinely feel like we have a meaningful, transformational voice.”

Watson told Melvin, “I think Ozy is part of this moment, and it’s not going to be easy, and I think what we do with newsletters, what we do with TV shows, original TV shows, podcasts and more, I think has a place.”

But as Flynn and Brian Stelter wrote on Monday, “Who oversees Ozy now? The company has already, in effect, dissolved. Three of the five board members resigned in the wake of (Smith’s column) about Ozy’s misrepresentations.”

Grisham speaks

Stephanie Grisham was one of Donald Trump’s longest-tenured staff members and biggest supporters. But now the former White House press secretary says she regrets enabling a culture of dishonesty inside the administration. Grisham started working with Trump before the 2016 presidential election and stayed until Jan. 6. In between, she served many roles, most notably White House press secretary from July 2019 to April 2020.

Last week, I wrote about Grisham’s new book, “I’ll Take Your Questions Now,” which is due out this week. On Monday, she spoke with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America.”

About being a part of the culture of dishonesty inside the White House, Grisham said, “I’ve reflected on that and I regret that. Especially now when watching him, and so many people, push the false election narrative. I now want to, in whatever way I can, educate the public about the behaviors within the White House because it does look like he’s going to try to run in 2024.”

If it was such a problem, however, why did Grisham stay as long as she did?

“Yes, that’s a fair question and it’s a complicated question,” Grisham said. She said when she joined the West Wing, she “started to see what it was really like and I regretted that decision immediately.”

Grisham also was interviewed by Juju Chang for Monday night’s “Nightline” and had even more ominous comments about her former boss.

“I am terrified of him running in 2024,” Grisham told Chang. “I don’t think he is fit for the job. I think that he is erratic. I think that he can be delusional. I think that he is a narcissist and cares about himself first and foremost. And I do not want him to be our president again.”

A plea for help

The Washington Post Press Freedom Partnership’s October newsletter features an open letter to President Joe Biden from the parents of Austin Tice, the freelance journalist who was abducted in Syria in 2012 and is believed to still be alive.

You can read the whole letter here, but here’s a portion of it:

Mr. President, Austin needs you to step out and boldly lead. Please say our son’s name in public. Talk about Austin Tice; let people in Washington and Damascus know you are thinking of him. Put courage in their hearts to do the right thing. We have no doubt your family will support you, and our government will unite behind you.

We would welcome the opportunity for our family to meet with your family. We’d like to tell you more about Austin. A meeting of our loving families would send a strong message across our country and overseas. It would show that you have taken the lead and we are working on this together. Together, we can bring Austin safely home.

What a retraction

One of the sickest feelings any journalist or news outlet can have is when it must run a correction for a mistake. It could be what appears nothing more than an innocent and minor mistake — a misspelled name, a wrong date, a dropped word — and yet it is not minor to the person who made the mistake. Trust me, a correction can ruin a day, if not a week.

But imagine having so many mistakes that you have to kill an entire story. That’s what the Boulder Daily Camera had to do with a story about reflections of 9/11. The Daily Camera said statements attributed to multiple sources were “fabricated.”

Here is what the retraction looked like. As you can see, and as far as I can tell, we’re talking about at least 30 errors. And the Daily Camera wrote, “This list does not necessarily constitute every error in the article.”

It went on to say, “While the Camera published this article in good faith, we regret that quotations attributed to interview subjects were materially inaccurate. In addition to retracting this article, editors have taken internal steps to prevent similar incidents from happening again.”

Interesting info on The Athletic

Last month, The Information’s Sahil Patel and Jessica Toonkel reported that The Athletic — the ad-free, subscription-based sports website — had hired LionTree to help find a buyer for the company. The story said The Athletic was looking to sell for more than $750 million.

On Monday, Toonkel had another story, writing the site “hemorrhaged nearly $100 million cash between 2019 and 2020, according to a presentation prepared for investors, exceeding the $73 million in revenue the company brought in over that same period. The heavy losses reflect primarily the cost of building up a 600-person-strong reporting staff to cover local sports in both the U.S. and Britain, said a person familiar with the situation.”

Toonkel wrote, “In a statement, The Athletic said the business was ‘materially affected’ by Covid through the first half of this year. But growth has now returned to 2019 levels and ‘we are excited to have finally turned the corner,’ adding it expects a ‘nearly profitable business in 2022.’”

Bomani Jones leaving ESPN?

New York Post sports media columnist Andrew Marchand reports in his new weekly newsletter (you need a paid subscription) that Bomani Jones is on the verge of leaving ESPN.

Jones joined ESPN full time in 2013 and has hosted his own podcast while also appearing on shows such as “Around The Horn” and “Highly Questionable.” He and Pablo Torre hosted “High Noon” from 2018 to 2020. He signed what ESPN called a multi-year contract in July 2020.

But Marchand tweeted Monday, “Bomani Jones’ ESPN run is all but over.” He wrote in his newsletter that there is no departure agreement yet, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Jones left the network.

Media tidbits

Natalie Morales. (Courtesy: CBS News)

  • It’s official: CBS announced Monday that Natalie Morales is joining “The Talk” as a new co-host. She joins co-hosts Akbar Gbajabiamila, Amanda Kloots, Jerry O’Connell and Sheryl Underwood. Morales is best known for her work on NBC’s “Today” show, as well as “Dateline NBC” and “Access.”
  • Condé Nast has named Sarah Burke as editor-in-chief of them — which writes about various topics from pop culture and style to politics and news, all through the lens of today’s LGBTQ+ community. Burke has spent most of the past several years working at Vice.
  • Tom Brady’s return to New England turned out to be a huge ratings success for NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.” Official numbers will come out later, but early numbers showed about 22.4 million watched Brady’s Tampa Bay Bucs beat his former team. That’s easily the most-watched “SNF” game this season.

Hot type

  • Writing for The New Yorker, Ed Caesar with “The Ship That Became A Bomb.”
  • For Hispanic Heritage Month, The Washington Post’s Silvia Foster-Frau and Rachel Hatzipanagos spoke with Latinos who expressed pride in their heritage and upbringing, and their connection to the Latino community.
  • To put a bow on today’s newsletter, here’s the “60 Minutes” piece with the Facebook whistleblower, in case you missed it, as well as “60 Minutes Overtime” with more of the story. Speaking of which, “60 Minutes” is publishing complaints filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission against Facebook by whistleblower Frances Haugen. Among the allegations in the SEC filings are that Facebook and Instagram were aware in 2019 that the platforms were being used to “promote human trafficking and domestic servitude.”

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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