Facebook Blur
A blur of Facebook logos Reuters

“Let me tell you the difference between Facebook and everybody else: We don’t crash ever. If the servers are down for even a day our entire reputation is irreversibly destroyed … Even a few people leaving would reverberate through the entire userbase. The users are interconnected, that is the whole point. College kids are online because their friends are online and if one domino goes the other dominoes go. Don’t you get that?”

That was the Mark Zuckerberg character played by Jesse Eisenberg at the height of his mania in “The Social Network” movie. But in real life it's a different story, with the world's most popular social network going down for about 20 minutes on Thursday morning.

And though some users expressed panic on other forms of social media, the outage barely made a ripple, distinguishing the site in a very fundamental way from Google, Twitter and other sites that drive global communication and business.

Starting at approximately 4:00 a.m. ET on Thursday morning, users around the world trying to check their notifications or stalk friends found only the simple message, “Sorry, something went wrong. We’re working on getting this fixed as soon as we can.”

The downtime affected both the website itself as well as smartphone and tablet apps around the world, marking the most severe outage on the site in four years. There was a 2.5-hour period in 2010 when the site was out of service, a problem later blamed on too many users trying to access the site at one time.

“Earlier this morning, we experienced an issue that prevented people from posting to Facebook for a brief period of time,” a company spokesperson told CNET. “We resolved the issue quickly, and we are now back to 100 per cent. We’re sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused.”

However instead of affecting markets or reducing the ability to function online, as a Bloomberg or Google outage would, the Facebook outage was met with noticeable calm. A wave of Twitter users, many of whom may have been already predisposed to being anti-Facebook, reacted to the outage with characteristic sarcasm.

While Facebook rose to Internet supremacy during the four years since its last major outage (Alexa rankings indicate it’s the second-most-popular site online), the notion that so many users took to other social media platforms to vent their feelings is proof that the world is a very different place than the one depicted in “The Social Network.” Along with Twitter, users flocked to Google Plus, Reddit, and even the Facebook-owned Instagram to discuss the problem.

Researchers admit it’s difficult to predict any trends for a social network that boasts a whopping 1.28 billion monthly users, but an increasing number have predicted that Facebook has plateaued. Instead of dominating the world of social media for decades to come, they said, Facebook seems to be shaping up to be the public’s introduction to it. Facebook has provided the training wheels for a generation that’s growing up with WhatsApp, Tumblr, SnapChat, and the like.

“Facebook has been trying too hard. Teens hate it when people try too hard; it pushes them away,” wrote 13-year-old Ruby Karp in a recent Mashable post. “Teens just like to join on their own. If you’re up in their faces about the new features on Facebook they’ll get annoyed and find a new social media.”

In other words, Facebook is losing its “cool” factor. It’s well known that Facebook has become a destination for parents and grandparents, a phenomenon that has only pushed more young people onto other social networks. A 2012 Nielsen study determined that nearly three-quarters of American moms with a home computer visited Faceboook, compared to 14% visiting Twitter and a stark 8.3% logging onto Tumblr. (An “Oh Crap My Parents Joined Facebook” Tumblr appeared that same year, appropriately enough.)

Many of the dire predictions fail to take into account that Facebook is as flush with cash as ever. To avoid overwhelming users and trying to compete with social media startups, Mark Zuckerberg and company have simply bought them. Facebook, in the past two years alone, has acquired the highly touted Oculus Rift virtual reality technology, WhatsApp, Face.com (which develops facial recognition technology), and over a dozen others.

The company also announced in January of this year that it had posted record profits, earning $2.59 billion in revenue.

“It was a great end to the year for Facebook,” Zuckerberg said of the final quarter of 2013. “We’re looking forward to our next decade and to helping connect the rest of the world. It’s been an amazing journey so far, but what’s ahead is even more exciting.”

If they can stay online, that is.