As you might have noticed, the news media has spent much of the past two years focused, seemingly solely, on the comings and goings of a certain Penn alumnus.
But it was pretty surprising on Tuesday, when a severely seismic server outage at Amazon Web Services’ Amazon S3 hosting service — specifically its data center based in Northern Virginia — was scarcely reported by major news networks and publications until shortly before the servers were brought back online.
During the four hours of outage, GroupMe, Venmo, Quora, Business Insider, GIPHY, Slack, our very own Canvas and many, many more services were either partially or totally down including, ironically, Is It Down Right Now?, a website that identifies sites that are down. In fact, this publication’s website wasn’t able to render images yesterday because our content management system lives, you guessed it, on Amazon Web Services.
Amazon S3 is used by 148,213 websites, including one that belongs to me.
Which is why it was almost insulting when, at the depth of the four-hour crisis when messages couldn’t be sent or received, payments couldn’t be processed, vital health information couldn’t be accessed and some people literally couldn’t turn on their lights, CNN was offering wall-to-wall coverage of “President Trump set to address Congress in six hours.”
In fact, no major news networks offered more than what seemed to be a passing mention of the calamity, as if it had annoyingly interrupted their vital analysis of a speech that had not yet taken place.
Of course, the tech media had a field day.
TechCrunch and The Verge offered minute-by-minute updates, like sports blogs, cataloguing the various platforms and services that were totally inaccessible. Wired lambasted Amazon Web Services, opining in one headline that “The Amazon S3 outage is what happens when one site hosts too much of the internet.”
But why was this very real nationwide internet outage — something that affected millions of people and thousands of businesses — sidelined to the niche of technology news?
Even more curiously, this type of malfunction is so rare that it should have provoked breaking news headlines, alerts or even a semblance of extended coverage. According to TechCrunch, S3 has achieved 100 percent annual availability, with the exception of an overnight hour or so in 2015.
Surely this outage deserved more outrage — or at least more interest.
Imagine, if you will, a four-hour period in the middle of a busy Tuesday where thousands of storefronts on the east coast were simply shuttered, inaccessible. Would we not expect a small respite from “all Trump, all the time,” the new guiding principle for television news and mainstream publications?
Perhaps the reason that the major news media is unequipped to offer extensive coverage is simply because their primary reporters lack the technical understanding to actually inform people about what is transpiring.
The first question on most people’s minds when confronted with the news was, what is Amazon Web Services? In fact, Vox summed it up in a headline: “A flaw in a little-known Amazon service is causing havoc across the web.”
The better story would be why this Amazon service, like its competitors from Google and Microsoft, is so little-known. Sure, unless you worked in technology or operated a website or platform, you would never need to interact with a web hosting service. But given that the internet is so important in all of our daily lives, isn’t it curious how little people know about how it actually works?
And the media is partially, if even mostly, responsible for that.
If you have ever seen the way that technology is reported on in the media, it reads like a laundry list of successful venture capital rounds, IPOs and stage-based product launches.
But that rosy picture is not the reality of what happens day to day in the tech world, and it creates a false narrative.
Technology is exciting, fast-paced and often newsworthy in its own right, on its own merits. When major — and I mean really, really major — incidents make only quiet murmurs beneath the chorus of unrelenting Trump-tastic coverage, even a politics junkie like me might begin to wonder where the media’s perspective has gone.
Either perspective must be returned, or perhaps journalists need to develop a better understanding of technology as it becomes more central to Americans’ lives. That way, people might know next time why they can’t swipe right on Tinder.
REID JACKSON is a College junior from New York, N.Y., and London, U.K., studying political science. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “Common Sense” usually appears every other Thursday.
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