Last week, something pretty big happened in the world of social media: Twitter was offline for two hours. “So what?”, you ask. “Doesn’t every website go down at some stage?” Well, generally yes. But they don’t make headline news!
Within an hour of Twitter being offline, BBC Newsbeat was reporting the event on Radio One. Everyone from the LA Times, ITN News, Boston Herald, New Zealand Herald and hundreds of others reported the news as if it were a major global event. So was it a quiet day or do Twitter and Facebook now have such a worldwide impact that they deserve the attention paid to them in this instance?
As it turned out, Twitter, Facebook, Google and a number of other websites were on the verge of collapse last Thursday after they were subject to so-called denial-of-service attacks, where their servers were flooded with a huge volume of data in an effort to disable them. Twitter co-founder Biz Stone said: “Attacks such as this are malicious efforts orchestrated to disrupt and make unavailable services such as online banks, credit card payment gateways, and in this case, Twitter for intended customers or users.” Facebook reported that its service had been “degraded” but not taken down. It was later confirmed that the attack was “massively co-ordinated” and aimed at one individual, an activist pro-Georgian blogger, and not the websites themselves.
But what does this story highlight? If you disregard the fact that it shows the susceptibility of the internet and the popular websites that we take for granted, what it does tell us in very clear terms is that social media in whatever form, but particularly Twitter and Facebook, are here to stay in a big, big way. Facebook has more than 250 million active users, and Twitter already has around 45 million users worldwide. Anyone with any interest in communications or the media should sit up and take note of how this story was reported and the importance placed on it by both online and offline media.