July 21, 2024

In the past, popular content producers such as Joe Rogan have been maligned as being a gateway to such “rabbit hole” content.

There was a lot of talk about the EU’s Digital Services Act (DSA)while it was drafted and during the typical-of-the-bloc tortuous process of adoption, but now that it’s been here for a while, we’ve been getting a sense of how it is being put to use.

Utilizing the European digital ID wallet to carry out age verification is just one of the fever pitch ideas here. And EU bureaucrats are trying to make sure that these controversial policies are presented as perfectly in line with how DSA was originally pitched.

Related: The 2024 Digital ID and Online Age Verification Agenda

The regulation was slammed by opponents as in reality a sweeping online censorship law hiding behind focused, and noble, declarations that its goal was to protect children’s well-being, fight disinformation, etc.

The cold hard reality is that trying to (further) turn the screw – any which way they can – on platforms with the most reach and most influence ahead of an election is simply something that those in power, whether it’s the US or the EU, don’t seem to be able to resist.

Here’s the European Commission (who’s current president is actively campaigning to get reappointed in the wake of next month’s European Parliament elections) opening an investigation into Meta on suspicion its flagship platforms, Facebook and Instagram, create “addictive behavior among children and damage mental health.”

After all, exerting a bit more pressure on social media just before an election never hurt anybody. /s

Thierry Breton, an EU commissioner who made a name for himself as a proponent of all sorts of online speech restrictions during the current, soon to expire European Commission mandate, reared his head again here:

“We open formal proceedings against Meta. We are not convinced that it 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,” Breton said in a press release.

And as the EU investigates “potential addictive impacts of the platforms (…) such as on unrealistic body image” – something not potential, but very concrete will also be under scrutiny: how effective Meta’s age verification tools are.

The grounds for these suspicions lie in the (DSA). With this pro-censorship legislation, which was instituted last summer, even major tech firms can now be held liable for online malevolence from “misinformation” to shopping swindles, all the way to child endangerment.

Even though pushing age verification pushes digital ID and affects everybody’s privacy on the internet, due to the nature of the technology necessary to achieve such a result – like providing your copies of government-issued identification documents – Breton made sure to appear this was purely a “think of the children” moment:

“We are sparing no effort to protect our children,” Breton said.

The investigation aims to substantiate the so-called “rabbit hole” effects that these platforms could have, in which they reportedly expose the youth to potentially damaging content about unrealistic physical appearances, amongst other things. The probe also aims to determine the levels of efficacy of Meta’s age-validation processes and child privacy safeguards. “We are sparing no effort to protect our children,” reinforced Breton.

The “rabbit hole” narrative, which suggests that social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram can lead users down paths of addictive and potentially harmful content, brings to light significant questions, especially regarding how Meta is using algorithms to control what people see.

While the European Commission’s investigation into Meta on the surface seeks to protect the mental health of minors, it also raises the problem of increased censorship on these platforms.

If the commission substantiates the claims of the “rabbit hole” effect, it may prompt stringent regulatory measures aimed at curbing the exposure of harmful content to young users, but that could also bring about several behind-the-scenes algorithmic changes that suppress controversial content.

In the past, popular content producers such as Joe Rogan, have been maligned as being a gateway to such “rabbit hole” content, and arguments similar to what the EU is making have been used to call for online censorship.

Meta has firmly defended its position, with a spokesperson stating, “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. This is a challenge the whole industry is facing, and we look forward to sharing details of our work with the European Commission.”

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