Instagram parent Meta hit with online child safety probe in Europe

Instagram parent Meta will face an investigation in Europe over its alleged failure to protect kids online from social media addiction, dangerous content and other harmful effects, regulators said Thursday.

The European Commission is probing whether Meta is in violation of the Digital Services Act — a sweeping law that took effect last year and requires Big Tech firms to police content on their platforms.

Officials said they are concerned Facebook and Instagram “may stimulate behavioral addictions in children” as well as “rabbit-hole effects,” where kids stay glued to the apps to the detriment of their physical and mental health.

The commission also raised questions about the effectiveness of Meta’s age-verification policies.

“We are not convinced that Meta has done enough to comply with the DSA obligations — to mitigate the risks of negative effects to the physical and mental health of young Europeans on its platforms Facebook and Instagram,” European Union internal market commissioner Thierry Breton wrote on X.

“We are sparing no effort to protect youth,” Breton added.

Meta shares were down 1% in early trading Thursday.

The EU probe is just the latest headache for Meta, which has faced intense scrutiny over online child safety in the US.

The social media giant faces a major lawsuit from 33 states accusing its apps of fueling a youth mental health crisis, as well as an shocking complaint by New Mexico alleging Meta has exposed underage users to purported sex predators.

Meta boss Mark Zuckerberg was personally grilled by lawmakers over the company’s safety failings during a high-profile Congressional hearing in January, with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) declaring that the tech billionaire has “blood on [his hands].”

Meta is facing an investigation in the EU. REUTERS
Officials said they are concerned Facebook and Instagram “may stimulate behavioral addictions in children” as well as “rabbit-hole effects.” pixarno – stock.adobe.com

At one point, Zuckerberg stood up and apologized to the families of online child sex abuse victims after being pilloried over Meta’s failure to crack down on financial “sextortion” crimes on Facebook and Instagram.

The European Commission said it opted to open a formal investigation into Meta’s practices after it received a risk assessment report from the company last September.

Meta could face massive fines of up to 6% of its annual global revenue if it is found to have violated the Digital Services Act.

A Meta spokesperson said the company looks forward “to sharing details of our work with the European Commission.”

Meta faces a number of lawsuits in the US over online safety. AFP via Getty Images

“We want young people to have safe, age-appropriate experiences online and have spent a decade developing more than 50 tools, features and resources designed to protect them,” the Meta spokesperson said in a statement. “This is a challenge the whole industry is facing, which is why we’re continuing to advance industry-wide solutions to age-assurance that are applied to all apps teens access.”

The intense scrutiny from regulators has yet to impact Meta’s bottom line.

The company’s stock has surged 37% since the start of the year.

Meta announced its first-ever quarterly dividend earlier this year, which is expected to provide Zuckerberg with a $700 million annual windfall.

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