On the 19th of July 2023, at around 9:43 PM GMT+1, WhatsApp, one of the world’s most popular messaging platforms, yet again experienced a widespread outage that affected millions of users across the globe for approximately an hour. The outage occurred during peak hours, causing widespread inconvenience and sparking concerns among businesses, individuals, and organisations that heavily rely on WhatsApp for instant messaging and group communication.

The service interruption led to a surge in user complaints and inquiries, flooding social media platforms with #WhatsAppDown and #WhatsAppOutage trending. Meta’s status dashboard reported that the outage affected message delivery and reception on the app. According to Downdetector, over 37,000 US users, 177,000 UK users, and 15,000 Indian users were affected. The issue was resolved at 10:32 PM GMT+1, as confirmed by Meta’s status dashboard and WhatsApp’s tweet.

Source: Pexels

WhatsApp’s Major Disruptions: What Happened?

Like any technology, WhatsApp is not immune to occasional outages and service disruptions. The app has suffered a series of global downtime in its lifetime, including one on the 4th of October, 2021, caused by faulty configuration changes on core routers. This outage in 2021 made the app inaccessible to users for close to six hours, garnering over 10.6 million complaints from users globally.

Also, in 2019, a coding error caused a major interruption on WhatsApp and other Meta-owned properties that lasted for nearly 24 hours and affected billions of users on these platforms. WhatsApp boasts over 2.5 billion monthly active users, and when it blinks out, lives are disrupted, and businesses are disconnected from customers and major stakeholders. Consequently, outages on an app of such magnitude will definitely have potential economic effects on businesses of all sizes and their operations.

Possible Global Economic Effect of WhatsApp Outages

One thing common with outages like this is that they come with some economic effects that affect businesses and result in financial losses to the tune of several million dollars. In extreme situations, the effect of these outages may reflect on the economic calendar through macroeconomic indicators like unemployment, gross domestic product, and even inflation. For instance, versions of WhatsApp in countries like Brazil, Argentina, and India have features that make it useful for e-commerce, and financial transactions. In a situation where an outage occurs, businesses who use these features as a core of their activities or businesses who use WhatsApp for banking and financing transactions because they are domiciled in countries with inadequate banking and finance infrastructures may suffer.

This would mean that brands that are reliant on WhatsApp to transact business would probably be on hold, and this implies that a fraction of the economy may shut down as well. Consequently, these businesses may lose money and resolve to fire employees to cut down on their losses or they may take other measures that may be detrimental to the economy. We saw this play out during the six-hour-long WhatsApp outage in 2021, when Mark Donnelly, a start-up founder in Ireland who operates HUH Clothing confirmed that his business lost thousands in sales.

According to Mark Donnelly, these losses affected the company’s ability to cover expenses like monthly rent and electricity bills. During WhatsApp outages, businesses’ sales and marketing strategies, supply chain structures, and communication channels may suffer. When this happens, there’s usually a decline in leads, a disconnect in customer engagement, and ineffectiveness of marketing campaigns, potentially impacting revenue and market expansion. In 2021, Samir Munir, who is the owner of a food-delivery service in India said that everything about his business was down during the outage as he couldn’t reach customers or deliver orders due to his reliance on his Facebook page and WhatsApp for business operations.

From communication disruptions and customer trust issues to reduced productivity and supply chain hiccups, the impact of WhatsApp outages can be far-reaching. It is therefore imperative for businesses to proactively address these risks by looking for a way forward. Source: Unsplash 

What’s the way forward?

An instinctive thing to do after a situation like the WhatsApp outage would be to reflect and ask questions regarding the way forward for the future. Lisa Ellis, senior analyst at MoffettNathanson, is of the opinion that people should begin to diversify away from total dependence on a single platform for both their personal and business activities. According to Lisa Ellis, it is not a wise decision for any economy to be overly dependent on just one platform because it creates the risk of high vulnerability.

As companies continue to rely on digital platforms for their operations, it is important to set up strategies to mitigate outage risks by diversifying communication channels, creating backup systems, and implementing contingency plans.