Facebook blacks out as whistleblower sees light

October 4, 2021, 9:29 PM UTC

You know that feeling when you’re having a rough couple of weeks, and you just want to disappear? That wish became reality for Facebook today.

Still reeling from a parade of leaks published by the Wall Street Journal that covered everything from the company’s ham-fisted handling of hate speech and teen health to drug cartels and celeb influencers, Facebook got knocked offline Monday morning. Starting around 11:30 a.m. ET, Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, Instagram, Oculus, and even the company’s internal systems, such as email and its corporate office software Workplace, went dark. The blackout appears to be a technical issue

(You’re out of the limelightat least temporarilyOzy Media.)

The massive—and ironically timed—outage comes a day after a Facebook whistleblower outed herself to the public in an interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes news show. Frances Haugen, a former product manager who joined Facebook in 2019 after stints at Google, Pinterest, and Yelp, explained her rationale for copying and leaking thousands of pages of internal Facebook documents: To hold the company accountable for failing to address its ill societal effects, like sowing discord, inflaming violence, causing mental anguish. 

“Facebook has demonstrated they cannot act independently,” Haugen told 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley. The company “is paying for its profits with our safety,” she added, while calling for world governments to pass stricter regulations aimed at the media giant. (Haugen has applied for whistleblower protections from the Securities and Exchange Commission.)

Haugen is the latest member of Big Tech’s rank and file to turn on Silicon Valley’s bosses. Apple, Amazon, and Alphabet are all contending with critics, leakers, and internal labor organizers of their own. Facebook is attempting to counter the barrage of bad press by releasing company-approved, annotated versions of the leaked documents and by trotting out execs, such as global safety director Antigone Davis and global affairs head Nick Clegg, to defend its behavior before Congress and news shows.

As Facebook contends with its black outs and black eyes, it’s also suffering from a string of painful departures. If you’re in the market for more news about ex-Facebook product managers, my colleague Maria Aspan has an excellent profile of Fidji Simo, who left her post as head of Facebook’s flagship app in July to become chief executive of Instacart, the grocery-deliverer. The story accompanies Fortune’s 2021 ranking of the Most Powerful Women in business, out today.

Our team chose Simo for its “Ones to Watch” list. The group is filled with up-and-comers who are within spitting distance of the main MPW list, whose honorees include CVS CEO Karen Lynch, Citi CEO Jane Fraser, Accenture CEO Julie Sweet, and UPS CEO Carol Tomé. Whether she nabs a top spot one day may depend on whether she can transform Instacart into an Amazon over a Groupon.

Perhaps Simo feels some contrition for Facebook’s faults. Unlike her alma mater—which makes “body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” according to one internal research slide—Simo is taking women’s health issues seriously. She’s been working quietly over the last year to launch a women’s health startup, the Metrodora Institute, which focuses on research and advocacy for medical conditions such as endometriosis, migraines, and chronic fatigue syndrome. You can read more about the effort here.

Robert Hackett


Guess who’s back. Days after shutting down, Ozy Media is sort of back. Cofounder and CEO Carlos Watson made the media rounds Monday morning to let people know that the embattled company was “premature” in deciding to shut down. Instead, over the weekend, Watson said the company spent time talking with some of its advertisers, readers, viewers, and investors, and realized that Ozy is “part of this moment.” Now who exactly is still working there is an entirely different matter. 

Down and out. Following the revelations of a whistleblower and a sweeping outage (see above), shares of Facebook plunged nearly 5% Monday—making for one of the stock's worst trading days of the year. The S&P 500, by comparison, was down 1.3%. It was far from the only tech stock to have tumbled, though. Amazon fell 2.9%, Apple slid 2.5%, and both Alphabet and Microsoft dropped about 2.1% each. Surprisingly, Twitter, whose platform became the go-to venue to complain about Facebook's outage, fared worse than Mark Zuckerberg's company today. Its stock fell 5.8%.  

Bad apples. Amid anger around Apple’s all-mighty App Store, the Tim Cook-led tech giant has improved its “report a problem” button to allow users to more easily report scams and frauds, according to The Verge. 

Cruising to $50 billion in revenues. Autonomous car maker Cruise expects that its ride-hailing business could reach $50 billion in revenues in the coming years, Bloomberg reported. The General Motors-backed company is set to tell investors of its outlook in the coming days, with CEO Dan Ammann expected to outline a plan for Cruise to begin charging for rides as early as 2022. 


10 billion photos. Clearview AI has hit a new milestone: More than 10 billion images collected from the Internet. For years, the company has—controversially—used photos from Facebook, Instagram, and elsewhere to build surveillance databases for police departments, law enforcement agencies, and others. But now, with the huge database, CEO Hoan Ton-That tells Wired that its customers are more likely than ever to find someone they’re searching for, with further tools that would “deblur” photos or remove masks in the works, too. 

From the article:

Clearview combined web-crawling techniques, advances in machine learning that have improved facial recognition, and a disregard for personal privacy to create a surprisingly powerful tool.

Ton-That demonstrated the technology through a smartphone app by taking a photo of the reporter. The app produced dozens of images from numerous US and international websites, each showing the correct person in images captured over more than a decade. The allure of such a tool is obvious, but so is the potential for it to be misused.


Most powerful women list by Fortune editors

Are women on a collision course with the COVID ceiling? by Beth Kowitt

Scalding water and steam send Bitcoin soaring—but analysts say be wary of El Salvador’s stunt by Shawn Tully

Why Instacart’s new CEO is also launching a women’s health startup by Maria Aspan

Everything to know about ‘Squid Game’, the surprise Netflix hit series by Martine Paris

Compound protocol bug accidentally sends $90 million to users by Chris Morris

CVS Health is about to turn hundreds of its drugstores into health care super-clinics by Shawn Tully

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Beam me up, Jeff! Nonagenarian and world-renowned thespian William Shatner is heading to space. The actor, who played Captain James Kirk on Star Trek, is set to board Jeff Bezos-owned Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket next week—making him the oldest person to fly to space. The news comes on the heels of new allegations from former employees that the space tourism company has a “toxic” work environment, rife with sexism and safety concerns. 

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