EU launches investigation into Meta over child protection concerns

Facebook and Instagram could cause addictive behavior in children, the European Commission claims

The EU has launched a new investigation into Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, over alleged failures to protect children from harmful content.
The European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm tasked with proposing new laws and policies, said it has opened formal proceedings to assess whether Meta may have breached the Digital Services Act (DSA) in areas linked to protecting minors.
Adopted in 2022, the DSA aims to create a safer digital space where fundamental rights of users are protected.
The commission is concerned that Facebook and Instagram’s algorithms and online interfaces “may exploit the weaknesses and inexperience of minors and cause addictive behavior, and/or reinforce so-called ‘rabbit hole effect,’” reads the commission’s press release.

The ‘rabbit-hole effect’ refers to specific algorithms used by social media platforms. When a user looks at one piece of harmful content, the algorithms suggest more of the same, potentially leading them toward videos that become more extreme.
Meta’s age-verification tools may also not be “reasonable, proportionate, and effective” to prevent minors from accessing inappropriate content, the press release stated.
The commission said it will now carry out an in-depth investigation as a priority. The opening of formal proceedings empowers the EU executive arm to take enforcement steps such as adopting interim measures and non-compliance decisions.
Meta said it has “spent a decade developing more than 50 tools and policies” to protect children. The company wants “young people to have safe, age-appropriate experiences online,” Reuters quoted a Meta spokesperson as saying. Protection of children is a “challenge the whole industry is facing,” the statement added.
Both Facebook and Instagram have more than 45 million monthly active users in the EU. In April 2023, they were designated by the bloc as Very Large Online Platforms (VLOPs). As such, they have to comply with obligations set out in the DSA.

The European Commission already opened a set of formal proceedings against Meta in April, looking into alleged deceptive advertising, political content, and election disinformation on Facebook and Instagram.
The probes come ahead of the vote for the European Parliament scheduled for early June. DSA violations can lead to fines of as much as 6% of a company’s annual global turnover.