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After worldwide outage, will Southeast Asia’s dependence on Facebook and WhatsApp wane?

Written by Khamila Mulia Published on     3 mins read

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Telegram is the top messaging app in Singapore and Malaysia, and ranks second in Indonesia after WhatsApp, according to SimilarWeb.

On Monday, Facebook and its related apps—Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram—went offline at around 11:40 a.m. EST. The platforms were down for around six hours. It was Facebook’s worst outage since its massive blackout in 2019 that lasted more than 24 hours. In a blog post, Facebook engineers said configuration changes on the company’s backbone routers that coordinate network traffic between data centers “brought Facebook’s services to a halt.”

As the largest social media company with 2.89 billion users, Facebook’s ecosystem-wide outage showed the degree to which the world relies on its services for communications and commerce. Entrepreneurs around the world reported revenue losses as they depend on Facebook’s network for sales and advertising. In South and Southeast Asia, which are Facebook’s largest markets, the outage unfolded at night, beginning at around 9:00 p.m. in India and 11:40 p.m. in Singapore, so the impact was less severe. However, it gave hundreds of millions of users a glimpse of life without Facebook.

In Indonesia, keywords like “WA IG,” as well as the hashtags #InstagramDown and #FacebookDown, were trending on Twitter on Tuesday while users vented about being unable to access these apps overnight. In Myanmar, where Facebook is synonymous with the internet, the outage caused panic among locals as they thought the junta had barred internet access, as it did in February shortly after seizing power. At the time, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram were blocked by several telco operators to stifle opposition. However, these apps can still be used via VPNs.

Throughout the region, frustration stemming from Facebook’s downtime steered people to other communication platforms. Telegram logged 70 million new users in one day, said founder Pavel Durov on his Telegram channel. The cloud-based messenger app has gained worldwide popularity since its launch in 2013. Many argue that Telegram’s encryption is more secure than WhatsApp. This is why WhatsApp users in places like India and Hong Kong, where personal privacy is a crucial concern, have switched over to Telegram.

Telegram is now commonly used in Southeast Asia. It is the top messaging app in Singapore and Malaysia, while it ranks second in Indonesia after WhatsApp, according to SimilarWeb, which provides web analytics services. Telegram has several unique features: its group chat can host up to 200,000 members, it has a “secret chat” function that uses end-to-end encryption and prevents messages from being forwarded to other chat rooms, and a “self destruct timer” permanently removes messages after a predetermined period.

Notably, Durov has pledged to maintain Telegram’s independence by retaining ownership of the company, casting Telegram as a privacy-conscious alternative to WhatsApp, which was sold by its founders to Facebook. Because of its features, Telegram is also the go-to platform for cryptocurrency enthusiasts, which has been gaining traction in Southeast Asia.

Nonetheless, it is difficult to compete with WhatsApp and Facebook as their services have been integrated with the daily lives of millions, if not billions, of people for years. Most people in Southeast Asia will likely continue using these apps for now. However, as Facebook’s outage sowed confusion in some parts of the world, users may be reducing their reliance on one company’s services to explore new options for communications and commerce.

Stephanie Pearl Li contributed to this report.

Read this: Facebook Oversight Board overturns Chinese-targeted hate speech takedown in Myanmar, but problematic moderation persists

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