Q. I was watching Netflix last night and the video started sputtering a bit and then froze before it started back up. This happens sometimes on Netflix and other streaming like Hulu and Sling TV. But my question is how can you tell if it’s their fault, or my Internet connection messing up? I never can tell for sure. — Emily, Raleigh, North Carolina. 

Emily, that’s a great question. Every streaming service experiences technical glitches, known as buffering, from time to time. The picture may freeze or stutter or even disappear entirely. You may also have trouble logging in or get an error message when you do so you can’t watch anything.

When these snafus occur, the average person probably doesn’t understand why they are happening. He or she might assume it’s the streaming service’s fault, but sometimes it’s actually triggered by a slow Internet connection at home, or a systemwide problem with your Internet provider.

So how can you tell what’s the root of the problem? It’s important to know because it might help you fix the issue, or at least, wait until the technicians fix it on their end.

I ask myself this very question every time I get a reader e-mail complaining about a video service having issues. Is the reader having the problem, or is the service having a glitch that’s affecting a large number of people? If I determine that it’s likely a problem with just one person, I don’t write about it. But if it’s a systemwide issue, then I do because I want to alert everyone that there may be a problem with their favorite streaming service.

I use several methods to find the answer. One is Downdetector.com, the handy web site that tracks online outages. The site reports when a large number of people are on social media complaining that they are having trouble with a site.

For instance, on the night of September 9, I got an e-mail from a Hulu subscriber that he couldn’t log on. I went to Down Detector which was reporting that nearly 16,000 people were simultaneously posting complaints about Hulu at the time. That’s a lot, even for a service like Hulu which has millions of subscribers. Consequently, I wrote a story about Hulu’s login problem.

But sometimes Down Detector isn’t aware of an issue that’s starting to develop. When I get wind of a possible streaming glitch, I will randomly search a few social media sites like Twitter to see if a lot of people are starting to post complaints. If they are, chances are good that the snafu is not isolated to one person, or even just a small group.

I’m not suggesting that you need to become an Internet investigative reporter every time your video service starts buffering. But the next time it does, and you wonder if it’s you or them, there is a way to quickly find out. And if it’s you, do a test of your Internet service, and your connections, to see if there’s a problem.

Emily, hope that helps. Happy viewing, and stay safe!

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— Phillip Swann