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Facebook short outage Tuesday 'self-inflicted;' other sites affected

Facebook's last significant outage was nearly five years ago.

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For many, the hour without a Facebook was a golden opportunity for a joke — or a marketing pitch — on other social media sites.

Facebook said the outage that made its sites inaccessible worldwide for about an hour Tuesday was self-inflicted.

Users in the Eastern United States itching to post photos of the big snowstorm had to turn to other outlets, while companies, like the dating app Tinder, that depend on Facebook and Instagram to reach their customers, had to wait.

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For many, though, the outage was just a blip, a sign that while Facebook has become an important communications tool for some 1.35 billion people worldwide, a temporary shutdown does not have the same crippling effect as the shutoff of electricity, water, the Internet or a city's public transit system.

It's also a lesson, perhaps, in what happens when we rely on a free service that, while very stable, does not promise 100 percent uptime. Facebook's last significant outage was nearly 5 years ago.

People took to Twitter to complain and joke about the outage, while companies such as Coca-Cola took it as a viral marketing opportunity. The hashtag "#facebookdown" generated a cascade of tweets, including an image of a T-shirt with the words "I survived #facebookdown."

"Kind of like the snowstorm that was supposed to cripple New York City, this didn't have much of an impact on Facebook," said Debra Aho Williamson, an analyst with research firm eMarketer. "It was over quickly, it was easily fixed and life came back to normal fairly quickly."

She added that while it's possible that companies that rely on Facebook's login tool to let people access their sites and apps lost a "little bit of traffic" or a tiny bit of ad revenue, for the length of time that the outage lasted it's unlikely to have had a big effect.

"Life will go on, I think we'll all survive," Williamson said.

More than 7,500 websites had services affected by the Facebook outage, according to Web tracking firm DynaTrace.

Users of PCs and Facebook's mobile app reported they lost access in Asia, the United States, Australia and the U.K. Facebook-owned Instagram was also inaccessible.

Facebook said the disruption was caused by a technical change and wasn't a cyberattack. "This was not the result of a third party attack but instead occurred after we introduced a change that affected our configuration systems," its statement said.

The temporary loss of service may be Facebook's biggest outage since Sept. 24, 2010, when it was down for about 2.5 hours.

Outages were more common in the site's early years, when its backup systems and data centers were not as robust as they are now. These days, the Menlo Park, California-based company routinely tests its infrastructure and sometimes even takes down part of it intentionally to check its resilience.

On its website for developers, Facebook said the "major outage" lasted one hour.

The outage occurred at midday in Asia, and after Facebook was restored, some users reported that the site was loading slowly or not functioning fully.

Lizard Squad, a group notorious for attention-seeking antics online, claimed responsibility on Twitter for the outages, but Facebook said this was not the case.

Guillermo Lafuente, security consultant at MWR InfoSecurity, said a technical fault was more plausible. A denial-of-service attack would have made the sites unreachable rather than accessible with an error message displayed, he said. Facebook's use of multiple data centers also meant an attack on one would have affected one region, while this outage was worldwide.

Also, restoring service would be a matter of reversing the technical changes, which matched with the brevity of the outage, LaFuente said.

Facebook has about 1.35 billion active users and Instagram has some 300 million. The outage came a day ahead of Facebook reporting its quarterly earnings.

Lizard Squad on Monday claimed it had defaced the Malaysia Airlines website and would release data from the airline. Its previous hacking claims have been mostly aimed at gaming or media companies.

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