The messaging app, WhatsApp, is back after millions of users of the social media platform were unable to send, and receive messages.
Nigerians and other users of the instant communication app, owned by Meta, had reported that they were unable to either receive or send messages.
Tuesday’s outage began around 8:00 am with several of the users heading to other social media platforms like Twitter to lament the development. Both the mobile and web versions of the app experienced similar issues.
But the services were restored around 10:00 am (just over two hours after the crash).
“We know people had trouble sending messages on WhatsApp today. We’ve fixed the issue and apologise for any inconvenience,” a Meta spokesman said.
A check indicated that users could not send messages to groups while personal messages only showed one tick which means that such messages were not delivered to the recipient. The WhatsApp status feature did not also function.
While the users could open the app and also access past conversations, new messages were not delivered.
No reason was given for the outage by the messaging platform. WhatsApp last tweeted on its handle about 16 hours ago, sharing a 16-second video of how users can protect their privacy.
This was not the first time the messaging app and other social media platforms will crash. In April, WhatsApp users in the US, Brazil, Paris, Spain, and Costa Rica reported that the app was down.
“You may be experiencing some issues using WhatsApp at the moment,” WhatsApp said in a Twitter update about the development. “We’re aware and working to get things running smoothly again. We’ll keep you updated and in the meantime, thanks for your patience.”
Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp had an outage in October last year, and it took hours before normal services were restored.
With over two billion active users, WhatsApp is the largest chat app globally and is the third biggest social media platform after Facebook and YouTube.
According to Statista, there are about 33 million active social media users in Nigeria as of January 2021 with WhatsApp being the most popular, amassing 90m users.
The Advertising Regulatory Council of Nigeria (ARCON) has instituted a suit against Meta Platforms Incorporated (owners of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp platforms) and its agent AT3 Resources Limited at the Federal High Court, Abuja.
ARCON is seeking a declaration among others, that the continued publication and exposure of various advertisements directed at the Nigerian market through Facebook and Instagram platforms by Meta Platforms Incorporated without ensuring same is vetted and approved before exposure is illegal, unlawful, and a violation of the extant advertising laws in Nigeria.
With gun control under debate and monkeypox in the headlines, Americans are facing a barrage of new twists on years-old misinformation in their social media feeds.
Accurate news stories about mass shootings have attracted eyeballs but algorithms have also spurred baseless conspiracy theories from trolls who want to push lies to attract traffic. And thousands have unwittingly shared them on Facebook, Twitter and other sites.
The May 24 attack at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas was a “false flag” operation aimed at pushing restrictive gun laws, according to Telegram posts from supporters of QAnon.
Carl Paladino, a New York congressional candidate, was among those who shared a similar theory on Facebook, later deleting it.
Others misidentified a shooting victim as “Bernie Gores” — a made-up name paired with an image of a YouTuber who has been wrongly linked to other major news events, including the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Experts say such misinformation is part of a pattern in which unscrupulous operators intentionally repurpose old narratives.
“A lot of this stuff is put together almost in this factory production style,” said Mike Caulfield, a misinformation researcher at the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public.
“You have a shooting event, you have these various tropes you can apply.”
Groundless claims of a “false flag” operation, which refers to political or military action that is carried out with the intention of blaming an opponent, can be traced back to the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
After 20 children and six staff members were killed, InfoWars founder Alex Jones falsely claimed the Newtown casualties were “crisis actors” — people who are paid or volunteer to play disaster victims.
In November 2021, a Connecticut judge found Jones liable for damages in a defamation suit brought by parents of the victims.
But regardless, allegations of staged mass shootings have routinely spread from fringe online networks such as 4chan to mainstream platforms — including the social media feeds of politicians such as Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene and, more recently, Arizona state senator Wendy Rogers.
Hoax posts misidentifying gunmen or victims as internet personalities have also become common.
In the race to capture online attention following breaking news, recycled narratives can be produced quickly and are easier for audiences to digest, Caulfield said. Content producers “make guesses” about what may go viral based on past popular tropes, which can help monetize that attention.
“When you spread this stuff, you want to be seen as in the know,” he said, even though the information is demonstrably false or misleading.
– Copying the Covid-19 playbook – Similarly, false claims about the recent spread of monkeypox — a rare disease related to smallpox — borrow from Covid-19 misinformation.
Since the outbreak, social media posts have claimed without evidence that the virus is a bioweapon, that the outbreak was planned, and that Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is behind it. Others have falsely equated monkeypox to other viruses, including shingles.
Those claims resemble debunked conspiracy theories from the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Memetica, a firm that conducts digital investigations, has researched some of the top Covid-19 misinformation recycled for monkeypox. One widespread theory points to a 2021 threat preparation exercise conducted by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) as purported evidence that the outbreak was planned.
That conspiracy theory is nearly identical to claims about Event 201, a pandemic simulation held in October 2019, that circulated online in early 2020.
“What was surprising to me was how similar (Covid-19 misinformation) is now to monkeypox,” Adi Cohen, chief operating officer at Memetica, told AFP.
“It’s the same exact story — oh, this is all planned, it’s a ‘plandemic,’ here’s the proof.”
Some monkeypox theories have been shared by conservative figures including Glenn Beck and anti-vaccine advocate Robert F. Kennedy Jr, according to Memetica’s research. Both have previously promoted misinformation about Covid-19.
Cohen said such tactics may be an effective way to get engagement on social media, regardless of the falsity of the information being shared.
“It’s the replication of what seems to work in the past,” he said. “Why work hard when you don’t have to?”
Germany’s anti-cartel watchdog said Wednesday it has placed Meta, the company which owns Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram, under close watch for any possible abuse.
The Federal Cartel Office said it has determined Meta to be a company of “paramount significance for competition”, a move paving the way for the authorities to clamp down “against potential competition infringements”.
Meta therefore joins Google in falling under reinforced monitoring made possible by the German Competition Act, which came into force in January 2021.
The act allows the authority to intervene earlier, particularly against huge digital companies.
“The digital ecosystem created by Meta has a very large user base and makes the company the key player in social media,” said Federal Cartel Office chief Andreas Mundt.
Having determined Meta’s significance, the office is “able to intervene against potential competition infringements more efficiently than with the toolkit available to us so far”.
Meta has also waived its right to appeal the German office’s decision, he said.
Big tech companies have been facing increasing scrutiny around the globe over their dominant positions as well as their tax practices.
The EU and Britain in March opened antitrust probes into a 2018 deal between Google and Meta allegedly aimed at cementing their dominance over the online advertising market.
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit against President Muhammadu Buhari.
The group is asking the court to “declare illegal and unconstitutional the plan by the administration to track, intercept and monitor WhatsApp messages, phone calls, and text messages of Nigerians and other people, as it severely threatens and violates the right to the preservation of privacy.”
The suit followed the proposal in the Supplementary Appropriation Act signed in July 2021 to spend N4.87bn to monitor private calls and messages. The amount is part of the N895.8bn supplementary budget approved by the National Assembly.
In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/1240/2021 filed last Friday at the Federal High Court in Abuja, SERAP is seeking: “an order of perpetual injunction restraining President Buhari and any other authority, persons or group of persons from unlawfully monitoring the WhatsApp messages, phone calls and text messages of Nigerians and other people.”
SERAP is also seeking “a declaration that any monitoring of WhatsApp messages, phone calls and text messages is oppressive and draconian, as it threatens and violates sections 37 and 39 of Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended]; Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights; and Articles 17 and 19 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Nigeria is a state party.”
According to the group, the plan to monitor WhatsApp messages, phone calls and text messages is an arbitrary interference by the administration into respect for family and private life, the home, and correspondence.
“The Buhari administration has legal obligations to protect Nigerians and other people against arbitrary interference and violations of their human rights. Monitoring of WhatsApp messages, phone calls and text messages would grant free rein to government agencies to conduct mass surveillance of communications of people,” it said.
“The mere threat of mass surveillance, even when secret, coupled with the lack of remedy, can constitute an interference with human rights, including the rights to privacy, freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.
“Privacy and expression are intertwined in the digital age, with online privacy serving as a gateway to secure exercise of the freedom of opinion and expression. Therefore, targets of surveillance would suffer interference with their rights to privacy and freedom of opinion and expression whether the effort to monitor is successful or not.”
Joined in the suit as respondents are the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN) and the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed.
The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Kehinde Oyewumi, read in part: “The powers to conduct arbitrary, abusive or unlawful surveillance of communications may also be used to target political figures and activists, journalists and others in the discharge of their lawful activities.”
“Any spending of public funds should stay within the limits of constitutional responsibilities, and oath of office by public officers, as well as comply with Chapter 2 of the Nigerian Constitution relating to fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy.
“The lack of any safeguards against discriminatory decision-making, and access to an effective remedy shows the grave threats the purported plan poses to constitutionally and internationally recognized human rights.
“Section 37 of the Nigerian Constitution and Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provide for the right to freedom from arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy and correspondence, communications and private data.
“Section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution and Article 19 of the Covenant also guarantee the right of everyone to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers and through any media.
“The UN General Assembly has condemned unlawful or arbitrary surveillance and interception of communications as ‘highly intrusive acts’ that interfere with fundamental human rights (see General Assembly resolutions 68/167 and 71/199).
“Interference with privacy through targeted surveillance is designed to repress the exercise of the right to freedom of expression. Surveillance of journalists, activists, opposition figures, critics and others simply exercising their right to freedom of expression – would lead to violations of other human rights.
“Targeted surveillance creates incentives for self-censorship and directly undermines the ability of journalists and human rights defenders to conduct investigations and build and maintain relationships with sources of information.”
SERAP is also seeking the following reliefs:
A declaration that monitoring of WhatsApp messages, phone calls and text messages of Nigerians and other people is inconsistent with the principles of legality, necessity, and proportionality and amounts to threat and infringement on the rights to private and family life, access to correspondence, and freedom of expression and the press guaranteed under sections 37 and 39 of Nigeria Constitution, 1999; Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and Articles 17 and 19 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
A declaration that the act of the Defendants budgeting N4.87bn of public money to monitor WhatsApp messages, phone calls and text messages of Nigerians and other people is unlawful and a violation of the rights to private and family life, access to correspondence, and freedom of expression and the press.
An order setting aside the budget line of N4.87bn to monitor WhatsApp messages, phone calls and text messages of Nigerians and other people for being inconsistent and incompatible with constitutional provisions, and international human rights treaties.
An order mandating the 1st Respondent to redirect public funds in the sum of N4.87bn budgeted to monitor WhatsApp messages, phone calls and text messages of Nigerians and other people to improve the working conditions of healthcare practitioners and improve public healthcare facilities across Nigeria.
And for such further order or orders that the court may deem fit to make in the circumstances.
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.
Major social media services including Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp were hit by a massive outage on Monday, tracking sites showed, impacting potentially tens of millions of users.
Outage tracker Downdetector was showing outages in heavily populated areas like Washington and Paris, with problems being reported from around 1545 GMT.
Users trying to access Facebook in affected areas were greeted with the message: “Something went wrong. We’re working on it and we’ll get it fixed as soon as we can.”
“We’re aware that some people are having trouble accessing our apps and products,” Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said on Twitter.
The outage comes a day after a whistleblower went on US television to reveal her identity after she leaked a trove of documents to authorities alleging the social media giant knew its products were fueling hate and harming children’s mental health.
Frances Haugen, a 37-year-old data scientist from Iowa, has worked for companies including Google and Pinterest — but said in an interview with CBS news show “60 Minutes” that Facebook was “substantially worse” than anything she had seen before.
The world’s largest social media platform has been embroiled in a firestorm brought about by Haugen, with US lawmakers and The Wall Street Journal detailing how Facebook knew its products, including Instagram, were harming young girls, especially around body image.
Facebook did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the outage.
Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp has announced the launch of a trial aimed at freeing its users from smartphones.
In a blog post on Wednesday, Facebook engineers said the new feature would allow for the hugely popular service be used on multiple “non-phone” devices without needing to connect to the smartphone app.
“With this new capability, you can now use WhatsApp on your phone and up to four other non-phone devices simultaneously – even if your phone battery is dead,” the blog post said.
Since its launch in 2009 as a smartphone messaging app, WhatsApp has amassed more than two billion users around the world and been acquired by Facebook.
WhatsApp can already be used on “companion devices,” such as computers, but exchanges are routed in such a way that if a person’s smartphone is offline or has zero battery, it won’t work.
Other issues can arise as well, such as frequent disconnection.
“The new WhatsApp multi-device architecture removes these hurdles” by no longer requiring a smartphone to perform every operation, the company said.
The new capability will be expanded more broadly as it is refined, Facebook added.
It also made assurances that WhatsApp’s security measures will still work under the new system.
“Each companion device will connect to your WhatsApp independently while maintaining the same level of privacy and security through end-to-end encryption that people who use WhatsApp have come to expect.”
In January, WhatsApp, the messaging app marketed on a reputation for privacy and used by millions of Nigerians, started to ask its users to agree to share their personal data with Facebook or have their accounts deleted by February 8. (WhatsApp has been sharing data with Facebook since 2016)
The announcement generated backlash and many users threatened to stop using the app and find alternatives, such as Signal and Telegram.
WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, buckled for a second and postponed its February deadline to May 15.
In a blog post explaining the rationale for the postponement, WhatsApp said its update had been misunderstood.
“WhatsApp was built on a simple idea: what you share with your friends and family stays between you,” the post read. “This means we will always protect your personal conversations with end-to-end encryption, so that neither WhatsApp nor Facebook can see these private messages.
“It’s why we don’t keep logs of who everyone’s messaging or calling. We also can’t see your shared location and we don’t share your contacts with Facebook.”
The company said the new update only affected “optional business features on WhatsApp” and “does not expand our ability to share data with Facebook.”
Later, WhatsApp said people who do not agree to the new update will not “have their accounts deleted or lose functionality of WhatsApp on May 15.”
Instead, the app will continue to remind them and, “after a period of several weeks, the reminder people receive will eventually become persistent.”
Once a user starts receiving persistent messages, they will also experience limited functionality – being unable to access your chat list, for example – until they accept the terms.
After a few weeks of limited functionality, users who still do not accept will be unable “to receive incoming calls or notifications and WhatsApp will stop sending messages and calls to your phone.”
On May 17, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) said it was engaging Facebook on the new policy and “exploring all options to ensure Nigerians do not become victims of digital colonialism.
“Our national security, dignity and individual privacy are cherished considerations we must not lose.”
One of NITDA’s concerns is that the new update is only applicable outside Europe, which is protected by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
On May 21, the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, headed by Dr Isa Pantami, said it was aware of the WhatsApp update and was backing NITDA’s engagement with Facebook.
However, Samuel Ngwu, a data privacy commentator, believes NITDA’s response to the WhatsApp update was belated and inadequate. The policy took effect on May 15 and NITDA’s statement only surfaced two days later.
“The entire reactive approach is inconsistent with NITDA’s own recognition of data privacy and protection being serious national issues,” Ngwu said. “Clearly regulatory nimbleness and proactivity cannot be over-emphasised in the data privacy space.”
According to NITDA, Facebook collects the following information on its users: account information, messages, including undelivered messages and forwarded; (important to note that WhatsApp says it does not store messages on its servers, except for undelivered messages, which are kept for a month before they are deleted. Also, WhatsApp has stressed that it is unable to read users’ messages as they are encrypted end-to-end); status information; transactions and payments data, usage and log information, location information; cookies; etc.
Other information collected by WhatsApp include: battery level; signal strength; app version; browser information; mobile network; connection information (including phone number, mobile operator or ISP), language and time zone; Internet Protocol address; device operations information; social media identifiers.
According to NITDA, WhatsApp shares the following information with Facebook: Account registration information; details on how users interact with others; mobile device information; Internet Protocol address; location data.
While it continues to engage with Facebook, NITDA said Nigerians should be aware that there are alternatives to WhatsApp in the country and advised citizens to “limit the sharing of sensitive personal information on private messaging and social media platforms as the initial promise of privacy and security is now being overridden on the basis of business exigency.”
NITDA, which is the regulator of Nigeria’s Information Technology sector, has also hinted that it is looking to create its own WhatsApp.
“We shall work with the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy,” it said in its May 17 statement, signed by its spokesperson, Hadiza Umar, “to organise a hackathon for Nigerians to pitch solutions that can provide services that will provide functional alternatives to existing global social platforms.”
When Channels Television reached out to WhatsApp for comment, a spokesperson reiterated that “the privacy and security of personal chats with family and friends are not changing. Personal messages continue to be protected by end-to-end encryption.”
But messages sent to business accounts may be subject to further analysis for commercial considerations.
“Neither WhatsApp or Facebook can make use of this content for their own purpose,” the WhatsApp spokesperson said when asked whether the company can analyse the content of these ‘business messages’.
“They can only process it at the instruction of the business. Similar services are already offered by a number of other providers today such as Twilio, Zendesk or MessengerPeople.”
Still, Ngwu, the data privacy expert, told Channels Television that Nigerians who use WhatsApp should be wary as Facebook has a track-record of breaching its users’ personal data, as in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. “WhatsApp has said the update only affects optional business features,” Ngwu said, “but Nigerians should be worried.”
WhatsApp has launched legal action to stop India enforcing new social media rules that would break its privacy guarantees, the messaging platform told AFP on Wednesday.
The regulations, which took effect the same day, come at a time of growing tensions between social media giants and the Indian government, which has demanded tech companies remove content critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
WhatsApp told AFP it had filed a case in the Delhi High Court.
The Facebook subsidiary did not give details of the legal action but made clear its opposition to the new guidelines that would also affect Twitter, Instagram and other platforms.
The new rules demand “traceability” of messages, which requires social media companies to give details of the “first originator” of posts deemed to undermine India’s sovereignty, state security or public order.
They also require platforms to take down posts depicting nudity or manipulated photos within 24 hours of receiving a complaint.
“Requiring messaging apps to ‘trace’ chats is the equivalent of asking us to keep a fingerprint of every single message sent on WhatsApp, which would break end-to-end encryption and fundamentally undermines people’s right to privacy,” WhatsApp said in a statement.
Messaging app WhatsApp has blocked the accounts of dozens of Palestinian journalists following this month’s fighting between Israel and Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas, reporters said.
Shortly after a ceasefire went into effect at 2:00 am on Friday (2300 GMT Thursday) ending 11 days of deadly conflict, two journalists in AFP’s Gaza City bureau received notices from WhatsApp in Arabic informing them their accounts had been blocked.
Other journalists, in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank as well as Gaza, said their accounts had also been blocked.
A crew from Qatar-based satellite news channel Al Jazeera said their accounts had later been restored after they lodged complaints with WhatsApp owner Facebook.
The vice president of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, Tahseen al-Astall, said “around 100 journalists” in Gaza had seen their accounts blocked.
As a necessary part of reporting on both sides of the conflict, Gaza journalists receive Hamas statements, including via WhatsApp, even though the Palestinian militant group has been blacklisted by the European Union and the United States, accused of belonging to “groups and entities involved in terrorist acts”.
The Arab Center for the Development of Social Media said the blocking of WhatsApp accounts was not an isolated incident.
In a new report, the group, based in Israel’s third city Haifa, documented 500 cases in which Palestinian “digital rights” had been violated between May 6 and May 19.
“Content and accounts were removed, reduced and restricted, hashtags were hidden, and archived content deleted,” the report said.
Some “50% of these reports were about Instagram, 35% Facebook, 11% Twitter and 1% Tik Tok.
“Companies did not provide an explanation for the deletion or suspension in the majority of their responses to users,” the report said.
“However, the reasons presented to users included hate speech, violation of community standards, requesting proof of identity among others.”
We have seen an “escalation against digital rights of Palestinians” in recent weeks, 7amleh campaigner Mona Shtaya told AFP.
Social media remains an important tool for Palestinians, many of whom believe traditional media coverage does not sufficiently capture the reality of the crisis.
Tensions came to a boil earlier this month over the looming expulsions of Palestinian families from their homes in the occupied east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah to make way for Israeli settlers.
Israeli air strikes and artillery fire on Gaza killed 253 Palestinians, including 66 children, and wounded over 1,900 people in 11 days of conflict from May 10, the health ministry in Gaza says.
Rocket and other fire from Gaza claimed 12 lives in Israel, including one child and an Arab-Israeli teenager, an Israeli soldier, one Indian and two Thais, medics say. Some 357 people in Israel have been wounded.
Messaging apps such as Messenger or WhatsApp and video calls on Zoom face stricter privacy rules in Europe, after a draft law passed a key EU hurdle on Wednesday.
The EU’s 27 member states approved a proposal that was stuck since 2017, with countries split between those wanting strict privacy online and others wanting to give leeway to law enforcement and advertisers.
Portugal, which currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, submitted a compromise proposal that was approved by qualified majority at a meeting in Brussels.
“The path to the council position has not been easy,” Portugal’s minister of infrastructure Pedro Nuno Santos said.
“But we now have a mandate that strikes a good balance between solid protection of the private life of individuals and fostering the development of new technologies and innovation.”
France, which wants to give its police forces stronger tools to fight terrorism, wants to limit the law’s curbs on access to private data.
The fight against child pornography was also a major concern of many member states.
But Germany supported far more robust privacy rules, with fewer exceptions.
In the approved text, member states agreed that service providers are allowed “to safeguard the prevention, investigation, detection or prosecution of criminal offences”.
In addition, companies such as Facebook and Google, can continue to process metadata of their users, but only with consent and if the information is made anonymous.
The final text also lent support to the advertising industry and abandoned a plan to ban so-called cookies that closely track user activity online.
The proposal updates existing EU rules that date back to 2002, under which strict privacy protection is only applied to text messages and voice calls provided by traditional telecoms, sparing tech giants.
Portugal will now negotiate with the European Parliament on a final version of the plan, that would then need ratification by MEPs and the 27 member states.
But the lead parliament’s rapporteur overseeing the negotiation warned that the talks would be rigorous.
“It is to be feared that the industry’s attempts to undermine the directive over the past years have borne fruit — they’ve had enough time to do that,” Birgit Sippel, a German MEP from the centre left S&D group, said.
“We must now analyse in detail whether the proposals of the member states really contribute to better protecting the private communication of users online, or instead primarily serve the business models of some digital corporations.”