Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp are down across the globe – but a hack of the system appears 'unlikely'.
In technical terms, Facebook was inaccessible because users were not being directed to the correct place by the Domain Name System (DNS).
However Facebook itself controls the relevant settings.
DNS allows web addresses to take users to their destinations and a similar outage at cloud company Akamai Technologies Inc took down multiple websites in July.
Security experts tracking the situation said the outage likely was triggered by a configuration error that left directions to Facebook servers unavailable.
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That could be the result of an internal mistake, though sabotage by an insider would be theoretically possible.
An outside hack was viewed as less likely. A massive denial-of-service attack that could overwhelm one of the world's most popular sites, on the other hand, would require either coordination among powerful criminal groups or a very innovative technique.
Cyber security specialist Jake Moore said: "There have been many reports and I'm struggling to find out exactly what has happened.
"I'm reading it could be DNS related, which means there is an issue with the connection not knowing where to go to your device.
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"It could well be a human error or a software bug lurking in the shadows but whatever it is Facebook needs to do its best to mitigate the problem of causing more panic about this.
"The biggest problem is fears over a cyber attack but as we saw from Fastly in the summer I would hedge my bets on that not being the case as we're talking about one of the biggest companies in the world, but there's always a chance."
The social media giant said it is working on restoring the services after being hit by one of its longest outages.
The disruption, which hit Facebook's platforms at around 4.55pm British time, comes a day after a whistleblower accused the firm of repeatedly prioritising profit over clamping down on hate speech and misinformation.
Shares of Facebook, which has nearly 2 billion daily active users, opened lower after the weekend's whistleblower report and slipped further to trade down 5.3% in afternoon trading on Monday.
They were on track for their worst day in nearly a year, amid a broader selloff in technology stocks on Monday.
Facebook acknowledged users were having trouble accessing its apps but did not provide any specifics about the nature of the problem or how many were affected by the outage.
"We're working to get things back to normal as quickly as possible, and we apologize for any inconvenience," Facebook tweeted about 30 minutes after the first reports of the outage.
Facebook's response was made much more difficult because employees lost access to some of their own tools in the shutdown, people tracking the matter said.
Downdetector – which only tracks outages by collating status reports from a series of sources, including user-submitted errors on its platform – showed there were more than 50,000 incidents of people reporting issues with Facebook and Instagram. The outage might be affecting a larger number of users.
Meanwhile, the social-media giant's instant messaging platform WhatsApp was also down for over 35,000 users, while Messenger was down for nearly 9,800 users.
Facebook has experienced similar widespread outages with its suite of apps this year in March and July.
Several users using their Facebook credentials to log in to third-party apps such as Pokemon Go and Match Masters were also facing issues.
"If your game isn't running as usual please note that there's been an issue with Facebook login servers and the moment this gets fixed all will be back to normal," puzzle game app Match Masters said on its Twitter account.
- Pokemon Go
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