If American works on Dunkin ‘, Costa Rica works on WhatsApp (and also coffee).
And for most of Monday, the Ticos had to live without an essential part of their daily lives when all of Facebook’s services, including WhatsApp and Instagram, went offline.
It was a global blackout, but one that affected Costa Rica more than, say, the United States. In Costa Rica, over 95% of smartphone owners use WhatsApp.
For Costa Ricans, WhatsApp has replaced text messaging and phone calls because it’s easy to use and cross-platform. (Most mobile carriers even offer WhatsApp for free, but charge for “regular” calls and texts.)
It is also crucial for official business: banks have WhatsApp customer support numbers; the Judicial Investigation Police collect tips via WhatsApp; the Presidential House communicates with the press via WhatsApp.
For several hours on Monday, it all came to an unexpected end. Costa Rica of course survived – we could all use a little more offline time, right? – but it served as an uncomfortable reminder of WhatsApp’s ubiquity in day-to-day functions across the country.
WhatsApp’s parent company, Facebook, has itself been Costa Rica’s most popular social network for over a decade. Two-thirds of Costa Ricans are active Facebook users; the platform is used as the preferred method of communication by most municipalities and even for national Covid updates nationwide.
As for Instagram, also a Facebook property… well, there are probably a lot of Costa Rican influencers who weren’t able to influence that much on Monday.
All that to say: Costa Rica relies heavily on a single foreign company – Facebook – for much of its daily life. The consequences of this were evident on Monday.