Will Facebook & Instagram shut down in Europe?

11th February 2022
Beatrice O'Flaherty

Meta has recently found itself in the limelight of mass hype and publicity. Last year saw the Facebook whistleblower, Frances Haugen, expose the company for knowingly ignoring concerns about the dangers of their content.

Haugen released copious documents that demonstrated Facebook “prioritis[ing] profitability over its impact on the wider world”. The controversy revealed the negative impact that the social network’s content was having on users’ mental health - particularly that of teenage and younger users.

Following this was the rebranding of ‘Facebook’, as a parent company to multiple social networks, to ‘Meta’. This is just one of many companies’ attempts to plunge themselves into the next phase of digital transformation: the metaverse.

Data regulations

Meta’s data sharing practices have fallen subject to scrupulous scrutiny after Ireland’s watchdog suggested in 2020 that it may be acting illegally.

The European Court of Justice invalidated the Privacy Shield, a framework that previously enabled Meta’s transatlantic data transfers between the EU and US. The political systems that govern the states within both bodies diverge, particularly in the handling of data.

As explained by Arkansas State University, the US favours a ‘bottom-up’ approach to data protection, reflective of their political system which prioritises the independence of individual states’ sovereignty. However, the EU has a ‘top-down’ style which balances intergovernmental and supranational policies.

Following Ireland’s ruling, that the contractual clauses which Meta relied on are not compliant with Europe’s GDPR, a new framework had to be adopted in order for Meta to continue its operation of Facebook and Instagram in Europe.

What does this mean for businesses?

The transfer and storage of data between countries is paramount to the operation of these social networks. More pressingly, the reliance of many companies on these networks for their own generation of revenue is phenomenal.

The prominence of social media channels in sales and marketing has increased drastically over the last decade. Faiza Saqib, Junior Audience Editor at The Independent, said: “For some people, Instagram and other social media outlets are practically (or literally) a full-time job.”

Saqib refers to the $24bn (£17bn) of revenue that the Business of Apps estimated to be generated in 2020 by Instagram. With the rise of influencers and advertising through social platforms, businesses are hugely reliant on Meta’s platforms to expand their outreach.

“I have lived without Facebook and Twitter for four years and life has been fantastic.”

Robert Habeck, Economic Minister of Germany, commented on the potential shut down of the networks. Having been hacked years ago, he has lived without them and eagerly embraced their departure.

Responses to Meta’s possible platform closures across Europe have varied. Many, like Haback, are indifferent. However, others have acknowledged the negative financial impact that this could cause.

Electronic Specifier contacted Meta for more information regarding the data privacy debate. Mitch Henderson, UK Facebook Associate Communications Manager at Meta responded to the media’s claims, many of which suggest that Meta are ‘threatening’ to shut down their networks in the UK:

“We’re legally obligated to include market concerns in our reporting, so it’s not accurate to claim that Meta is threatening to withdraw from markets. Like 70+ other companies (examples below), we’re starting the concerns and potential impact on the business.”

Further to this, Nick Clegg, VP of Global Affairs and Communications at Meta warned that “a lack of safe, secure and legal international data transfers would damage the economy and hamper the growth of data-driven businesses in the EU, just as we seek a recovery from COVID-19…

“The impact would be felt by businesses large and small, across multiple sectors…”

As of yet, a new framework has not been publicly adopted, nor has an agreement been met. Possible solutions include limiting the extent to which users can engage across the networks to comply with existing legislature. Will Meta be forced to withdraw from European markets? Will it persist with limited functionality? Or will a new framework be drawn up and implemented?

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