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Facebook usage is soaring due to coronavirus lockdowns

With millions of people around the world practicing social distancing due to the coronavirus outbreak, it will surprise few that Facebook has seen a massive surge in the use of its various apps in recent weeks.

The social networking giant this week posted some interesting data on the matter after receiving multiple inquiries about how the coronavirus crisis is affecting the usage of its different services.

In many of the countries that have been hit hardest by the virus formally known as COVID-19, total messaging across Facebook’s platforms has increased by more than 50% over the last month, while voice and video calling have more than doubled on Messenger and WhatsApp.

Looking specifically at Italy, one of the worst-hit countries that’s still dealing with new cases, Facebook said it’s seen up to 70% more time spent on its apps since the crisis arrived there. Instagram and Facebook Live views in Italy doubled in the space of a week, messaging increased by more than 50%, and time spent group calling (calls with three or more participants) increased by more than 1,000% over the past month. Yes, 1,000%.

In a message accompanying the stats, Facebook’s Alex Schultz, vice president of analytics, and Jay Parikh, VP of engineering, noted how COVID-19 has upended the lives of billions of people around the world, adding, “In response to this emergency, we’ve been supporting the global public health community and working to provide people with information to help them stay safe. As the pandemic expands and more people practice physically distancing themselves from one another, this has also meant that many more people are using our apps.”

So how is Facebook’s technology handling this sudden surge in usage across its various services? Schultz and Parikh described the current situation as “unprecedented” and “more challenging than usual,” in part because much of its workforce is now dispersed after being told to work from home.

“We’re monitoring usage patterns carefully, making our systems more efficient, and adding capacity as required,” the pair said, adding, “To help alleviate potential network congestion, we are temporarily reducing bit rates for videos on Facebook and Instagram in certain regions. Lastly, we’re conducting testing and further preparing so we can quickly respond to any problems that might arise with our services.”

Schultz and Parikh even responded to questions about how the crisis is affecting Facebook’s bottom line, saying that as the company doesn’t monetize many of the services where it’s seeing increased engagement, it’s actually seen a weakening in its ads business in countries that are taking aggressive action to slow the spread of COVID-19.

While Facebook has suffered some serious outages in recent years, the service appears to be holding up well at the current time as more people than ever head to its apps to stay in touch with loved ones. As the crisis deepens in the U.S., the technology powering Facebook and similar services will come under increasing pressure as more people in lockdown turn to different apps to stay connected.

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Trevor Mogg
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