Tomiwa Ibukunle, a The 21-year-old entrepreneur in Lagos, Nigeria, started his clothing and accessories business two months ago. She uses WhatsApp to advertise her products and process orders from customers, and typically receives 20 orders a day. But on October 5, when WhatsApp was down globally (along with other Facebook platforms) for eight hours, her business took a big hit. “I just started my brand and I use WhatsApp for Business because it’s easy. But when I could not access it, I started to worry because I had just uploaded the new items I got on my status and sent a few to my customers, “says Ibukunle. “I ended the day with five orders and wondered where I would start from if WhatsApp stayed put, because this is where all my customers are.”
Although the Facebook outage was a nuisance to many users in the US and Europe, its effects felt far more severe in other areas of the world where the company and its platforms are completely dominant. In Nigeria, WhatsApp is the most important means of communication with the family both at home and abroad and is also used for business. Over 95 percent of Nigeria’s 33 million social media users use the platform. It may be convenient to have everyone on the same platform, but the interruption shows that Nigeria’s dependence on the app can be catastrophic – and that it’s time to explore alternatives.
Da WhatsApp went Down in Nigeria, panic ensued accompanied by rumors that the service would never return. “I sent a message to my daughter and it did not deliver. I thought it was a network problem until my nephew told me it was not,” said Nkechinyere Peters, who lives in Umuahia. “That was when I became worried, because WhatsApp is our most important means of communication. What if something happened and she wanted to call me? Or did I need help with something important?” Worse was that Peters heard that WhatsApp would be completely deleted. “I believed in it,” she says. “Everyone around me did.” The belief that the instant messaging app would not return caused many to worry, unsure of what to do – and how to communicate – if the rumor turned out to be true.
Other people with families far from them shared the same fear. “My grandmother is old and sick,” said Chiamaka Eze, who is from Nigeria but lives in Benin. “And as her favorite granddaughter, she occasionally calls me when my parents or staff are not there to help her choose her drugs. But during the interruption, I could not help her, and I panicked that she would take the wrong drugs because she was home alone. “
Interruptions like this not only stop communication but also put people at risk as many important services are provided through the platform. WhatsApp, for example, hosts a 24-hour hotline from Mentally Aware Nigeria for people seeking advice or relief. Last year, BORGEN the magazine reported that over 10,000 people have spoken to MANI since 2016.
And when it comes to business, WhatsApp is the preferred platform over Instagram and Facebook Marketplace. WhatsApp supports company profiles and virtual catalogs that let customers find information about the products or services they are interested in. It has become popular with entrepreneurs because customers trust the platform as “they see the goods in real time as we add them to our There is also a kind of closeness when we communicate in a private space, “says Orji Eke, fashion designer. But the benefits that WhatsApp for Business offers are great – and the entrepreneurs who trust it did harm – once the service goes down.
Atsu Davoh, CEO and founder of BitSika, a payment app that helps people send money across countries, says a company that controls WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook is a ticking time bomb for those who rely almost exclusively on these services. “If we want to think of a real solution for the future,” he says, “situations like this are a good case for decentralization.”
WhatsApp is a success because so many people are on it, but there are other options. For people living in Nigeria, alternatives to the WhatsApp messaging app include Telegram or Signal. These apps have privacy features that are not available on WhatsApp and have an open source API. Homemade apps like SoftTalk Messenger are also available. SoftTalk offers a service for making international calls directly from the app and also has a shopping feature.
The outage has shown that Nigerians need to move to other apps, but for this to happen, there should be attractive options that meet the standard of what Nigerians are used to. Investors should fund local apps and those not yet developed – such investments will ensure that other options are available and that communication is still possible the next time it happens.
Several great WIRED stories