Will Meta really shut down Facebook and Instagram in Czechia?

The story behind Mark Zuckerberg's threat to shut down the company’s major apps in Europe, and why your social media will likely survive.

 William Nattrass

Written by William Nattrass Published on 08.02.2022 12:06:00 (updated on 08.02.2022) Reading time: 2 minutes

It’s been hard to miss recent headlines about the possible withdrawal of Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, from Europe. A dispute with the EU over data protection regulations has led the company’s boss, Mark Zuckerberg, to threaten the closure of Meta’s most popular apps across the continent.

So could the Czech Republic be about to wave goodbye to the social media giant? It seems hard to believe, given the massive popularity of Meta's apps including Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp in the Czech Republic.

In its annual report released last Thursday, Meta said: “If a new transatlantic data framework is not adopted and we are unable to… 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.”

Yet closer examination of the dispute suggests Meta's threat may be empty words. Meta is unhappy with a July 2020 ruling by the European Court of Justice which found that transferring users’ personal data from the EU to the U.S. doesn’t adequately protect EU citizens’ security.

In this context, Zuckerberg is trying to exert pressure on EU lawmakers drawing up regulations on the transferal of user data across the Atlantic.

Some EU lawmakers reacted angrily to the company's warning. German MEP Axel Voss said “Meta cannot just blackmail the EU into giving up its data protection standards.”

But behind the harsh rhetoric, both parties have an overriding interest for the dispute to be resolved. Europe is a hugely profitable market for Meta, while its targeted advertising, created with the help of user data processing, is relied upon by a wide range of EU businesses.

It’s also been noted that data transfers across the Atlantic are in the interests of many European businesses using American data centers.

It’s clear that the withdrawal of Facebook and Instagram from Europe could only result from a catastrophic unwillingness to compromise from one or both parties. The huge interests at play make such a situation unlikely, so users probably shouldn’t worry about losing their favorite social media apps anytime soon.

Indeed, the public response to Meta’s threat may be of greater interest than the dispute itself. Czech news outlets and opinion forums have been awash with comments suggesting many would be happy to see the back of Facebook and Instagram.

It has become fashionable to express dissatisfaction with the control of social media giants over our lives. But would people really be happy to live without Facebook and Instagram now, especially given the increased importance of social media during the pandemic?

Only the actual withdrawal of Meta from the Czech Republic would answer that question. But with Zuckerberg and the EU both hoping for the brand’s continued operations in Europe, we’ll probably never find out.

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