It was frustration for social media users worldwide recently as the services of WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram went down. The outage commenced from about 4.30pm Nigerian time on that fateful day, but many users were not aware as they thought it was the internet services they were using that had problems. For instance, I had responded to a couple of messages between 4.32pm and 4.36pm only to see a few minutes later that the messages had not left the phone. Ordinarily, that would occur if the internet service went down. Some mischievous Nigerian users had in the beginning concluded and started sending out messages on other active channels blaming the downtime on the government which they said had finally carried out its threat to proscribe social media.
Laughable as this was, some people seemed to have bought into it, until news reports confirmed the global nature of the crash. WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram are all part of the Facebook Group owned by Mark Zuckerberg and they have been inacces sible with desktops, tablets, phones and other devices since the afternoon crash. Many WhatsApp users in Nigeria have quickly found succuor in Telegram, a similar platform which many groups have in the last couple of years encouraged their members to move to, because it has larger capacity to accommodate group members, as against WhatsApp’s maximum of 256 members per group. Competition between WhatsApp and Telegram has been fierce, and it is not only in the capacity of groups.
WhatsApp was incorporated in 2009 by Brian Acton and Jan Koum, both former employees of Yahoo while Telegram was launched in 2013 by brothers Nikolai and Pavel Durov, who previously founded the Russian social network, VK. Telegram prides itself with providing unlimited storage. This means all text messages, images and documents are saved on cloud. Users can log out and log in any number of times from any number of devices simultaneously without losing any data, and do not need to worry about backing up or restoring. Group members capacity seems to be Telegram’s biggest selling point as a Telegram group can afford up to 200,000 members, compared to WhatsApp’s 256 maximum members. Users can communicate with anyone on Telegram even if they don’t have the contact number of those people. It is the name that shows.
This ensures the privacy of the user’s contact number. Group members can continue to send messages in a group without revealing their phone numbers. Like WhatsApp, Voice calls and Video calls are enabled on Telegram. There is no doubt that WhatsApp has been very popular and it has taken Telegram a while to cut into the popularity which years of WhatsApp have provided. Its end-to-end encryption has also made it preferred for businesses that have not had alternatives, although Telegram only uses it for secret chat. More users have been on WhatsApp and the links with Facebook and Instagram has provided a wider platform with acceptability cutting across ages, businesses and levels of education. Since no official reason has been given for the crash, and people’s patience are so thin in the presence of a credible alternative, especially when it is free, WhatsApp and its group platforms are likely to lose many users to their competitor.
This is the second time Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram, will go down this year, the first being in March. There was also an outage in July 2020. Of the about 33 million social media users in Nigeria, 86.2% are on Facebook, 81.6 per cent 73.1% on Instagram, while 67.2% Facebook. This is the huge number of frustrated people who suddenly had to do without the Facebook-owned platforms today. And with Twitter yet to be fully restored following the micro blogging service’s problems with the Nigerian government, one can understand the frustrations and how easy it would be for users to migrate in a jiffy to any other available social media platform so they can continue to communicate with their contacts worldwide.
News of hacking and sabotage of the Facebook platforms are sketchy and still being disputed but owners are assuring of quick resolution of the issues. The questions are too many to discuss for now. However, with today’s outage, members of the public will no doubt seen the advantage of making use of two or more chat platforms so that there is alternative when one goes down. Telegram’s delight in its secret conversations, availability on several platforms, free of use, speed, privacy, support of larger file sizes and cloud storage is likely to give it more popularity than it currently has.