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Sat. May 25th, 2024

The European Union has initiated an investigation into Meta’s social media platforms, Facebook and Instagram, over concerns that they are failing to effectively counter disinformation ahead of the European Parliament elections scheduled for June 2024. The probe, launched on Tuesday, falls under the EU’s Digital Services Act (DSA), a comprehensive law designed to curb illegal online content and ensure that tech companies do more to protect users.

Under the Lens of the Digital Services Act

The European Commission, responsible for enforcing the DSA, stated that Meta’s moderation of adverts on Facebook and Instagram might be insufficient, potentially causing harm to electoral processes and fundamental rights, including consumer protection rights. The Commission expressed specific concerns about the vulnerability of Meta’s platforms to foreign interference, with an emphasis on Russian attempts to manipulate public opinion and undermine democratic processes in Europe.

Meta’s Compliance with the DSA Under Scrutiny

Meta’s platforms, among 23 designated “very large” online platforms required to comply with the DSA, are subject to stringent regulations. Non-compliance could result in fines of up to six percent of a platform’s global turnover or, in extreme cases, a ban. Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice President of the European Commission, remarked on the lack of transparency in Meta’s content moderation procedures and its decision to shut down CrowdTangle, a key tool used to monitor viral falsehoods.

Facebook and Instagram’s Reach in Europe

With a combined user base of more than 260 million monthly active users across the EU, Facebook and Instagram’s widespread reach raises significant concerns about the impact of disinformation on European elections. Meta’s move to reduce political content in its recommender systems, which prioritize content for users, has drawn particular scrutiny from Brussels, as it could conflict with the DSA’s transparency rules. The European Commission has given Meta five working days to explain what actions it has taken to mitigate the risks from decommissioning CrowdTangle.

Meta’s Response and Broader Implications

Meta, while not directly commenting on the investigation’s focus, stated that it has a well-established process for identifying and mitigating risks on its platforms. A company spokesperson mentioned Meta’s willingness to cooperate with the European Commission and provide further details on its ongoing work to counter disinformation. Beyond Meta, the DSA has become a cornerstone of the EU’s efforts to regulate big tech, with other investigations targeting platforms like Elon Musk’s X, TikTok, and Chinese retailer AliExpress.

Expanding Regulatory Measures to Tackle Disinformation

The EU’s investigation into Meta is part of a broader effort to regulate digital platforms and ensure that they adhere to rules promoting transparency and accountability. The political advertising law, set to complement the DSA, will take full effect in late 2025, providing further regulatory mechanisms to combat disinformation and protect democratic processes. While the EU’s probe into Meta does not have a fixed deadline, its outcomes could significantly impact how social media platforms operate in the European market, with a focus on preventing election-related disinformation.

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