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Could Facebook and Instagram Really Be Removed from Europe?

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Social Media Fuels Division and Angst – But Solving the Underlying Issues at Play is Hugely Complex


Could Facebook and Instagram really be shut down in Europe?

Over the weekend, several reports suggested that Facebook’s parent company Meta may consider shutting down its services within the EU due to an ongoing legal challenge over how it handles EU user data.

The reports came on the back of this note, which was included in Meta’s most recent SEC update:

“In August 2020, we received a preliminary draft decision from the Irish Data Protection Commission (IDPC) that preliminarily concluded that Meta Platforms Ireland’s reliance on Standard Contractual Clauses (SCCs) in respect of European user data does not achieve compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and preliminarily proposed that such transfers of user data from the European Union to the United States should therefore be suspended. We believe a final decision in this inquiry may issue as early as the first half of 2022. If a new transatlantic data transfer framework is not adopted and we are unable to continue to rely on SCCs or rely upon other alternative means of data transfers from Europe to the United States, we will likely be unable to offer a number of our most significant products and services, including Facebook and Instagram, in Europe, which would materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition, and results of operations.”

This is not a new thing.

As Meta notes, back in 2020, a European Union privacy regulator sent the company a preliminary order to suspend data transfers to the US about its EU users. The order was based on rising concerns among EU officials in regards to potential surveillance practices by the US Government. The specifics of the perceived threat in this instance were not made clear, but the move did follow shortly after the Trump Administration’s push to ban several Chinese-originated apps from America, including TikTok, due to concerns that they could be used to provide China’s ruling CCP with data on US citizens.

That push didn’t end up going through, and TikTok, as well as many other Chinese apps, continue to operate in the US. But the TikTok example did raise new concerns about the safety of foreign nations tracking citizens through social apps, and the potential ways in which such data could be misused by regional entities, if they were so inclined.

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There’s seemingly less cause for concern on this front between the US and EU nations, given their partnership on most fronts. But even so, it is a lingering issue, and as Meta now notes, an official ruling on this case could be coming in the next few months, which could, at least in theory, force Meta to re-assess how it stores user data.

Which could result in it removing Facebook and Instagram from the region.

That would obviously be a big step, and it does seem more like posturing at this stage, as opposed to something that Meta would actually do. But then again, in February last year, Meta did cut off all Australian news publishers from its platforms due to a dispute over revenue share, showing that it is willing to take big action in certain cases.

If it has to. Meta could still come to an agreement about user data transfers, ensuring that it can continue to process EU user data within its US-based data centers. Or it may be forced to keep it all within the region.

Note that Meta does already operate data centers in Ireland, Sweden, and Denmark, and it just recently applied to build another in the Netherlands. So it’s not entirely out of the question that Meta could align with any such requirements, potentially, if it had to. But it would be a significant undertaking, and it could also limit user data analysis, at a time when Meta is already dealing with reduced capacity on this front due to Apple’s iOS 14 update.

The other potential advantage for EU nations here could relate to tax obligations, and ensuring that Meta pays its fair share in each region. If Meta is forced to wholly operate in each nation, and establish fully localized offices, along with data processing, that could limit its capacity to focus on low tax nations to set up regional bases.

That’s a longer bow, and not essentially the focus of this proposal, but the concept is that such regulations ensure data sovereignty in each region, which could also relate to governance in other areas too.

But overall, a full EU shutdown of Facebook and Instagram seems unlikely. Facebook alone has 427 million users in the EU, and it was the only region where it saw any significant growth (+4m MAU) in the most recent quarter. And that’s not including Instagram.

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Would Meta really be willing to cut that many people off entirely?

My guess would be that they would need to exhaust all avenues before that happens, and with a ruling not yet finalized, we’re not at that next stage just yet.

UPDATE (2/8): Meta has published a post explaining that has no plans to pull its apps from Europe:

“We have absolutely no desire to withdraw from Europe; of course we don’t. But the simple reality is that Meta, like many other businesses, organisations and services, relies on data transfers between the EU and the US in order to operate our global services. We’re not alone. At least 70 other companies across a wide range of industries, including ten European businesses, have also raised the risks around data transfers in their earnings filings.”

Meta says that the disclosure of this as a risk is in line with the company’s legal requirements to disclose material risks to its investors. 



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Meta Launches New Reels Features, Including Stories to Reels Conversion and Improved Analytics

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Meta Launches New Reels Features, Including Stories to Reels Conversion and Improved Analytics

As it works to latch onto the short-form video trend, and negate the rising influence of TikTok, Meta has announced some new updates for Reels, across both Facebook and Instagram, including additional Reels insights, the expansion of the ‘Add Yours’ sticker, and ‘auto-created’ Reels clips. Yes, automatically created Reels videos.

Here’s how the new additions work.

The main addition is the expansion of the ‘Add Yours’ sticker from Stories to Reels, providing another way to prompt engagement from other users via Reels clips.

As you can see in these example images, you’ll now be able to post ‘Add Yours’ questions via Reels clips, while you’ll also be able to view all the various video responses to any prompt in each app.

It could be another way to spark engagement, and lean into the more interactive ethos of the short form video trend. Part of the appeal of TikTok is that it invites people in, with the participatory nature of the app essentially expanding meme engagement, by making it more accessible for users to add their own take.

Meta will be hoping that the ‘Add Yours’ sticker helps to facilitate the same, prompting more engagement with Reels clips.

Next up is auto-created Facebook Reels, which, as it sounds, will enable users to automatically convert their archived Stories into Reels clips.

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Reels updates

As you can see here, you’ll soon see a new ‘Create from Your Story Archive’ prompt in the Reels creation flow, which will then enable you to convert your Stories into Reels clips.

So it’s not exactly wholly automated Reels creation, as it’s just flipping your Stories clips into Reels as well. But it could provide another, simple way for users and brands to create Stories content, utilizing the video assets that they already have to link into the trend.

Worth noting that Meta also recently added a tool to convert your video assets into Reels within Creator Studio.

Meta’s also expanding access to its ‘Stars’ creator donations to Facebook Reels, which is now being opened up to all eligible creators.

Stars donations in Reels

Meta initially announced the coming expansion of Stars to Reels back in June, which will provide another critical monetization pathway for Reels creators. Short form video is not as directly monetizable as longer clips, where you can insert pre and mid-roll adds, so add-on elements like this are key to keeping creators posting, and fueling an ecosystem for such in its apps.

Stars on Reels will be available all creators that have maintained at least 1,000 followers over the last 60 days.

Meta’s also adding new Reels performance insights to Creator Studio, including Reach, Minutes Viewed, and Average Watch Time.

Reels updates

That’ll provide more perspective on what’s working, and what’s not, to help optimize your Reels approach – which could be especially valuable in the coming holiday push.

Lastly, Meta’s also expanding some Reels features that were previously only available in Instagram to Facebook as well.

Crossposting from Instagram to Facebook is now available to all Instagram users, while Meta’s also expanding its Remix option to Facebook Reels also.

Reels updates

As noted, Reels has become a key focus for Meta, as the short-form video trend continues to gain traction, and TikTok continues to rise as a potential competitor. By replicating TikTok’s main elements, Meta’s working to negate its key differentiation, which could ensure that more of its users don’t bother downloading a new app, and just stick with its platforms instead.’

Which, whether you agree with that approach or not, has proven effective. Reels content now makes up more than 20% of the time that people spend on Instagram, while video content, overall, makes up 50% of the time that people spend on Facebook.

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Meta additionally notes that it’s seen a more than 30% increase in engagement time with Reels across both Facebook and Instagram.

Meta doesn’t need to ‘beat’ TikTok as such (as much as it would like to), but it does need to dilute its significance if it can, and make it less appealing for users to have to start yet another new account, and re-build their friends list.

That’s why it’ll continue to replicate TikTok at every turn, because millions of people are currently not going to TikTok because of the presence of Reels in its apps.  

You can learn more about Meta’s new Reels updates here.

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