Thursday saw a real-life recreation of the scene from The Truman Show, where once the plug is pulled on the show, people search about aimlessly for something else to do – a commentary on how television has taken over our lives. Only this time, TV was replaced by social networking site Facebook and micro-blogging service Twitter, as both sites crashed after a malicious attack.
The attack came so suddenly that Twitter did not even have time to put up its ‘fail whale’ error image. Co-founder Biz Stone said on the site’s blog that they were the victim of a denial-of-service attack, a technique in which hackers overwhelm a website's servers with communications requests.
"We are defending against this attack now and will continue to update our status blog as we continue to defend and later investigate," Stone wrote.
Facebook too faced a similar attack, with a spokesperson saying: “Earlier this morning, Facebook encountered network issues related to an apparent distributed denial of service attack, that resulted in degraded service for some users. No user data was at risk and we have restored full access to the site for most users."
A similar attack – expected to be orchestrated by the same hackers – also took down blogging service LiveJournal.
All three services are now back to full functionality, but the impact it had on its audience spoke a lot about how dependant the world has gotten on them.
As Monica Hesse of the Washington Post puts it: “It was almost like social networking had died. Or had a heart attack, at least. For several hours, millions of users were catapulted back to the dark, informationless days of 2003, before such pertinent information as what Ashton Kutcher had for a snack became readily available, before it was possible for people to take a simple quiz to learn which ‘Twilight’ character or dog breed they were most like.”
Anand Chandrasekaran, a serial entrepreneur in Mountain View, California, said he felt "completely cut off" from hundreds of friends without Twitter.
"Director John Hughes died today and I didn't know because Twitter was down," a user called kristenthomson tweeted shortly after the site was functioning again. "Do I have to go back to watching the news to get my news?"