Meta: Why the EU Commission is investigating Facebook and Instagram – Economy

The troublemakers have long been there. They post disinformation on Twitter, hidden behind anonymous accounts. They sow discord with pictures on Instagram, advertise on Facebook in the interests of the Kremlin, and incite demonstrators in Telegram groups. United in their desire to undermine Western democracies, foreign actors are working to poison public discourse in the EU. Ahead of the European elections at the beginning of June, fear of foreign influence is a constant topic in Brussels, especially from Russia. And the European Commission is taking advantage of the new opportunities it has had since last year: it is investigating platforms that are allegedly not doing enough to combat disinformation.

On Tuesday, the authority initiated an investigation into the US company Meta with its two platforms Facebook and Instagram. The Commission suspects that the company may have violated the requirements of the Digital Services Act (DSA for short). Among other things, Meta is said to have violated the law in dealing with misleading advertising and political content in its services, which requires operators of online services such as social networks, search engines or app stores to strictly moderate hate content and disinformation. Companies must delete illegal content more quickly than before and report risks to the Commission in detail. Users must also have easily accessible ways to report illegal content. This is also missing from Facebook and Instagram, the commission said.

Head of the authority Ursula von der Leyen (CDU) said that her Commission had created means “to protect European citizens from targeted disinformation and manipulation by third countries”. If you suspect a violation of the rules, take action. “This applies at all times, but especially in times of democratic elections,” she said.

The investigation is part of a series of several proceedings

The investigations against Facebook and Instagram are part of a series of proceedings under the new law. So far, the Commission has investigated X (formerly Twitter), TikTok and the online retailer Aliexpress initiated. The career platform LinkedIn she sent critical questions to personalized advertising based on sensitive data. And several of the larger platforms that are subject to particularly strict regulations under the Digital Services Act must provide the Commission with information about how they deal with the risks of generative artificial intelligence.

While Meta makes money through advertising, the company does not yet appear to have adequate mechanisms against organized disinformation. (Photo: Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/dpa)

In the case of Meta, the Commission suspects the company of failing to adequately prevent the “spread of misleading advertising, disinformation campaigns and coordinated inauthentic behavior”. While Meta makes money with advertising, the company does not yet seem to have adequate mechanisms in place for dealing with advertisements that are generated with artificial intelligence and with so-called deepfakes – deceptively real but fake recordings of real people and places. “We saw how this was exploited by a Russian influence campaign,” says a commission representative. This also applies to fraudsters who are on the platforms.

A second allegation that the Commission is investigating concerns ordinary political content. The algorithms on Facebook and Instagram put them at a disadvantage compared to advertising-relevant content – the influencer with the chic handbag automatically gets more attention than the political blogger who talks about the upcoming elections. The commission suspects that this could also violate the DSA. Thirdly, the authority complains that Facebook no longer has a “real-time tool for civil society discourse and election observation in the run-up to the European Parliament elections” after Meta abolished a corresponding application “without an adequate replacement”.

A fourth suspicion concerns – similar to the case of the investigation against X – the mechanisms for reporting illegal content. According to the law, these mechanisms must be “easy to access and user-friendly,” which Meta allegedly does not comply with. The commission emphasized in a statement that it was examining suspicions and was not presuming any results. If the suspicion is confirmed, there is a risk of high fines of up to six percent of global annual turnover.

When asked how effective the law can be in the fight against disinformation, an agency representative said that the success of the DSA is not measured by the speed with which misleading content and disinformation are deleted. The law ensures “that the associated risks are effectively and carefully mitigated by the platforms to prevent them from affecting our democracy.” And considering the measures taken so far, things are anything but slow.

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