HomeTop StoriesEU asks Meta about ad-free subscriptions, 'shadow ban'

EU asks Meta about ad-free subscriptions, ‘shadow ban’

The EU used new regulatory powers on Friday to question Meta over ad-free subscriptions to Facebook and Instagram, claiming some voices are being suppressed online in a phenomenon known as ‘shadow banning’.

The European Commission has issued a request for information under the massive content moderation law known as the Digital Services Act (DSA), which came into force last August for online giants like Meta.

The EU’s executive branch has launched a wave of investigations under the DSA to question platforms over how they handle concerns from consumer protection to children’s online activities.

The latter request is a first step in a possible compliance process, but does not in itself indicate that there have been violations of the law or that steps toward punishment have been taken.

The list of questions from the committee is long.

It wants more information about Meta’s offer from November for Facebook and Instagram users in Europe to pay monthly subscriptions to use the platforms without ads and without having their data tracked for targeted advertising.

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Privacy and consumer rights activists have rejected the subscriptions and filed separate formal complaints with data protection authorities.

Now the committee wants Meta to “provide additional information about the actions it has taken to comply with its obligations regarding Facebook and Instagram’s advertising practices, recommendation systems and risk assessments” related to subscriptions.

Recommendation algorithms are used by platforms to push more personalized content. According to the DSA, platforms must limit the risks arising from such systems and provide users with a non-personalized feed that does not rely on “profiling”.

– Greater transparency –

Brussels also demanded that Meta “provide information on the practice of the so-called shadow ban and the launch of Threads”, a spin-off of the Instagram photo app.

Individuals, including politicians, and groups accuse some media platforms of shadow banning – or actively limiting the reach of certain viewpoints, including conservative opinions.

Since the outbreak of the war in Gaza in October, there have been accusations against platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, of censoring pro-Palestinian voices in particular.

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The platforms have firmly denied such claims.

Meta must respond to the EU’s questions before March 22.

“The DSA requires transparency around ‘shadow bans’ and similar content moderation” such as removals and suspensions, a commission spokesperson told AFP.

“In some cases, such practices may impact the societal risks that (major platforms) are required to identify and mitigate,” the spokesperson added.

For example, if a user is ‘moderated’, the largest platforms must provide a ‘very detailed’ explanation as to why such a decision was made.

The EU’s request comes after Instagram said last month that it would “not proactively recommend content about politics” on users’ Instagram and Threads recommended feeds.

Meta has taken similar steps to reduce the amount of political content on Facebook.

The committee is also seeking “additional information” on issues such as terrorist content, election-related risk management and the protection of minors, following previous requests since October 2023.

It added that Meta had until March 15 to respond to these issues.

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Meta did not immediately respond to AFP’s request for comment.

raz/ec/rl

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