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WhatsApp sets new call records during socially-distant New Year celebrations

The social distancing efforts amid the ongoing pandemic has led to an expected increase in social media usage for New Year's Eve, with Facebook claiming to have observed the most calls made in a single day on WhatsApp.

For the holidays impacted by the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, Facebook saw its typical high usage spikes over New Year's Eve. In a year dominated by people working from home and using technological means to stay in touch, the social network saw an increase of the use of its services for that night, prompted by people staying at home instead of going out socially.

In a blog post, Facebook calls the 2020 New Year's Eve as a "historically busy night" for its services, including the setting of new records. This included more than 1.4 billion voice and video calls made globally, via WhatsApp, the most calls it has ever handled in a single day, and over 50% more than the service handled last year.

Facebook Messenger saw high loads for group video calls in the United States, with nearly double the number on New Year's Even compared to the average day. Instagram Live and Facebook Live played host to more than 55 million live broadcasts the same evening.

Facebook technical program manager Caitlin Banford mentions the annual New Year's Eve usage spikes, but says "the early days of the pandemic produced traffic spikes that would dwarf New Year's Eve several times over," an effect that "lasted for months." This prompted Facebook Engineering to work on "unprecedented efficiency improvements" to make its infrastructure more resilient to sudden shifts in load.

"This year, New Year's Eve looked a lot different," Banford suggests, "and we had engineering teams across Facebook's apps ready to support any issue, so the world could ring in 2021."