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New Year Glitch Sets Facebook Back to 1969

Time
If you were using Facebook on New Year's Eve, from around 4pm US time onward, you might have been congratulated on 46 years of friendship with one or several of your friends. Nice enough, except for the fact that Facebook has only existed for 11 years, and likely as anything, you won't have known any of these people for anywhere near that long. Or even been alive for that long.

Rather than a late emergence of the fabled Y2K bug, or some sort of bizarre temporal wrinkle, this was supposedly due to a 'Unix Epoch' related error, as hypothesised by Microsoft engineer Mark Davis:

I was amused as anyone else when Facebook celebrated my 46 years of friendship with someone this morning. Naturally, the inner nerd in me can’t just take at face value–to those of you unaware, the Unix Epoch (aka the date that has an internal value of ‘0’ on a Unix system) is 1/1/1970, which based on time zone adjustments, can become a random hour on 12/31/1969. Which is 46 years ago today. 
Now, you might be wondering, so what? Why is it in my Facebook feed? Well, if you click on your “memories” page, you’ll see a subset of you friends listed as having a 46 year old Facebook memory today. Scrolling through my list, it’s the people I’ve been friends with on Facebook for a very long time – chances are, the “friends with since” feature was implemented AFTER I became friends with those people. And as such, it’s stored in the database as ‘0’ rather than the actual date. The developer who wrote the “friends with since” memories algorithm should have added a case ‘WHERE friendsWithSinceDate != ‘0” or something along those lines. But they didn’t so those people appear in today’s query.

I only just about understand that, but from what I can gather, it's yet another case of algorithms mishandling data because it wasn't organised properly. If I had a penny for every time that's happened on a social media platform, I could probably by a Freddo or something, at a push. Bloody recession. Facebook haven't bothered to offer any explanation of their own besides 'something went wrong', which is a shame, not because I'd take any pleasure in seeing Facebook elaborate on their own screw up, but because if the above reasoning is correct, it's fascinating and I'd like to know more.

All this amusing little bug really goes to demonstrate is that the increasing mathematical complexity of storing the ever-growing details of over 1 billion people is going to keep throwing up bizarre glitches. It's also a timely reminder that all that profile data, all those images and all those comments are really just a big, swirling maelstrom of meaningless numbers. Go outside and do something productive you schlub! Or keep reading Social Songbird, that works too.




Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF


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New Year Glitch Sets Facebook Back to 1969 Reviewed by Callum Davies on Tuesday, January 05, 2016 Rating: 5

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