08 October 2021

Nieman Journalism Lab: “When Facebook went down this week, traffic to news sites went up”

On August 3, 2018, Facebook went down for 45 minutes. That’s a little baby outage compared to the one this week, when, on October 4, Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp were down for more than five hours. Three years ago, the 45-minute Facebook break was enough to get people to go read news elsewhere, Chartbeat’s Josh Schwartz wrote for us at the time.

So what happened this time around? For a whopping five-hours-plus, people read news, according to data Chartbeat gave us this week from its thousands of publisher clients across 60 countries. (And they went to Twitter; Chartbeat saw Twitter traffic up 72%. If Bad Art Friend had been published on the same day as the Facebook outage, Twitter would have literally exploded, presumably.)

Laura Hazard Owen

While other sources have reported different traffic gains for social networking and messaging competitors during Facebook’s outage, the increased visits to news publications challenges their assumptions that they are reliant on Facebook social traffic for sustained success. I suspect the opposite is more prevalent: people consuming headlines on Facebook and interacting in the comments without ever visiting the original article, and so this downtime drove them to read news at the source. I am somewhat guilty of this as well, but on Reddit instead of Facebook, where I rarely visit links shared in the various subreddits I follow, except when I want to share the article elsewhere.

Traffic sources and the October 2021 Facebook outage
At the peak of the outage, net traffic to pages across the web was up by 38% compared to the same time the previous week, Chartbeat found

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