Social networking apps Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp are seen on a smartphone screen. ( AFP / Kirill Kudryavsev)

Chinese teen hacker did not cause Facebook outage

Copyright AFP 2017-2022. All rights reserved.

Social media posts claim a global outage that took Facebook offline for more than six hours on October 4, 2021, was the work of a Chinese teen hacker. The claim is false. Facebook said the crisis was caused by an internal error, not malicious activity. A photo of a boy shared in the reports shows a 12-year-old who spoke at a Beijing internet security conference in 2014 after hacking his school's computer system. 

"13 Year-Old Sun Jisu Hacked Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram!" reads a Facebook post shared on October 6, 2021, on a page with more than 65,000 followers.

"On 4 October 2021, Facebook and ALL of its messaging and social media platforms went down for about six hours, including Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram!"

The post claims that various media outlets, including Reuters news agency, reported that "the failure was due to a 13 year-old Chinese hacker called Sun Jisu."

Screenshot of the misleading Facebook post taken on October 7, 2021

Facebook went offline for more than six hours on October 4, 2021, in a global outage that also hit its other platforms Instagram and WhatsApp.

The photo, along with a similar claim, was also shared on Facebook here, here and here; and on Twitter here, here and here

Similar claims were shared on social media in various languages, including Malaysian, Arabic, Amharic, French, Spanish and Hausa

The claim, however, is false. 

Facebook's explanation

A keyword search found no reports by Reuters news agency or any other credible media blaming the Facebook outage on a Chinese hacker.

In a statement on October 4, 2021, Facebook said that "there was no malicious activity behind this outage — its root cause was a faulty configuration change on our end."

In a separate statement on October 5, 2021, the social media giant said the outage was "caused not by malicious activity, but an error of our own making".

Chinese hacker

A reverse image search found the photo of the boy appeared in this article by ECNS, the English-language portal of Chinese News Service, a Chinese state-run news agency, on September 28, 2014. 

Screenshot of the ECNS article

The photo's caption reads: "Wang Zhengyang, the youngest hacker in China, attends and speaks at 2014 China Internet Security Conference in Bejing on Sep.24th, 2014."

The report said: "Twelve-year-old boy Wang Zhengyang has become a sensation at the China Internet Security Conference in Beijing, as the country's youngest hacker.

"He began his journey by hacking into his school's system to avoid spending time on homework."

Photos of Wang, then a first-year student at Tsinghua University High School, speaking at the China Internet Security Conference in Beijing in September 2014, were also published by other Chinese media outlets here and here

Below is a screenshot comparison of the picture in the misleading post (L) and the picture in the ECNS article (R):

Screenshot comparison of the picture in the misleading post (L) and the picture in the ECNS article (R)

The logo on the microphone in the picture matches the logo of the China Internet Security Conference, which ran from September 24 to 25, 2014. 

October 12, 2021 This article has been updated to correct one of the Chinese media reports' links.