Facebook and Instagram face EU investigation over child safety risks

Facebook and Instagram, both social media sites under U.S. big tech company Meta, are facing fresh investigations opened by the European Union (EU) on Thursday over suspicions that they’re failing to protect children online, in violation of the bloc’s digital regulations.

Violations could result in fines of up to 6 percent of a company’s annual worldwide revenue. Tech companies are required to do more to tackle illegal and harmful content on their platforms under the EU’s landmark Digital Services Act (DSA).

The European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, said it’s concerned that the algorithmic systems used by the two sites to recommend content like videos and posts could “exploit the weaknesses and inexperience” of children and stimulate “addictive behavior.”

It’s worried that these systems could reinforce the so-called “rabbit hole” effect that leads users to increasingly disturbing content.

“In addition, the Commission is also concerned about age-assurance and verification methods put in place by Meta.” The regulator’s concerns relate to children accessing inappropriate content.

“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 Commissioner Thierry Breton said in a social media post.

Meta said it already has several online tools to protect children.

“We want young people to have safe, age-appropriate experiences online and have spent a decade developing more than 50 tools and policies designed to protect them,” a Meta spokesperson said.

“This is a challenge the whole industry is facing, and we look forward to sharing details of our work with the European Commission.”

The cases announced Thursday aren’t the first for Facebook and Instagram. They’re already being investigated under the DSA over concerns they’re not doing enough to stop foreign disinformation, ahead of EU elections next month.

(With input from agencies. Cover via Reuters.)