Social Media Platforms as Utilities

Are social media platforms, like utilities, responsible for keeping their service available for their customers at all times?  Phone companies, electric companies, and water authorities are typically private companies, but we still expect them to provide our service with a level of reliability and responsibility that we don’t demand from grocery stores or hair salons.

Over the past few months Facebook experienced several outages. The site went down in May, June, August, and most recently, went down for 20 minutes last month. The 20 minute outage reportedly could have cost the site around half a million dollars.

For the average person, an unexpected power outage can be frustrating and mildly inconvenient. You might miss the last half of an enthralling Jeopardy rerun or have to suffer through a half-cooked Hot Pocket, but the electricity will return and life goes on. However, if your work depends on electricity, the burden is a bit more substantial. Whether you need power to run your credit card terminals or to  run your router, that time your without electricity costs you money.

While a social media platform temporarily going out of service seems trivial, there are many who would disagree. In September’s Facebook crash, a multitude of users took to Twitter, voicing their rage and dejection. The 20 minutes of downtime could have been a good opportunity to get some fresh air, listen to professors, or pay attention in work meetings, but there was no time for any of that. What if a world-changing event happened? How would the world know?

Social media outages, like losing electricity, hurts businesses more than the average person. Most people on social media use it for free. While businesses don’t have to pay to be on social media platforms, many pay for advertising. Sure, that 20 minutes might not send a start-up into bankruptcy because their add wasn’t shown, but that’s still a service that start-up was paying for where they didn’t get their money’s worth. It would be like buying ad space on a billboard. You bank on people driving by that billboard and seeing your advertisement. Only the people who own the billboard you’re renting accidentally knocked it over and you’re paying for the time it takes them to put it back up.

Most people shouldn’t expect the same level of service from a social media platform that they expect from their utilities. The main difference between the two is that you pay for utilities, but not your social media. Yes it’s inconvenient when you can’t check your wall to watch that funny cat video your friend posted, but inconvenient is all that it is. Since you don’t have to pay for Facebook, Twitter, and the like, there’s no reason to hold those platforms to a standard of service.

Businesses have more of a claim to service from social media platforms, but up until recently, social media outages have been pretty rare. Since a business might actually be paying for a service, they should get that service. Everyone else can set a timer for 20 minutes, enjoy their Hot Pockets, and prepare some “it’s back on” zingers.







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