EU Leaders Call Zuckerberg's Bluff To Shutter Facebook In Europe

A laptop next to a phone showing Facebook
Unsplash | Timothy Hales Bennett

Policymakers in the European Union appear to be calling the bluff of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, whose company, Meta, made a vague threat to shut down Facebook and Instagram in Europe.

It seems that the threat was taken in stride, as E.U. leaders were more than willing to envision a future without these social media networks.

Zuckerberg doesn't want to use European servers.

Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook | Mark Zuckerberg

The crux of the issue, and the thing that got a bee in Zuckerberg's bonnet, was data transfers.

Meta Platforms, formerly known as Facebook, Inc., the parent company of both Facebook and Instagram, had a difference of opinion with the European Union.

Meta wants to use U.S.-based servers exclusively.

Computer servers
Unsplash | Ian Battaglia

But E.U. law states that the data of European users needs to be stored and processed on European-based servers.

Meta attempted to play hardball, as the social media giant wants U.S. servers to handle all data, regardless of where it comes from.

Meta threatened to pull out of Europe altogether.

Gif: "I don't think you should call me anymore"
Giphy | Yellowstone

Meta's annual report warned that if the E.U. doesn't back down from its stance, the company will likely not be able to offer "its most significant products and services" in the E.U.

A Meta spokesperson later softened the stance, saying, "We have absolutely no desire and no plans to withdraw from Europe, but the simple reality is that Meta, and many other businesses, organisations and services, rely on data transfers between the EU and the US in order to operate global services.”

What does the E.U. think?

E.U. flags
Unsplash | Guillaume PĂ©rigois

Meta drew a clear line in the sand, but it seems as if E.U. leaders don't really care if Meta wants to pull out of a region with nearly half a billion people. In fact, they're taking the threat in stride.

Some leaders, like many of us, live without Facebook.

German lawmaker Robert Habeck
Wikipedia | Sandro Halank, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

"After I was hacked, I have lived without Facebook and Twitter for four years, and life has been fantastic," said German economy minister Robert Habeck.

French finance minister Bruno Le Maire said, "I can confirm that life would be very good without Facebook and that we would live very well without Facebook."

It seems like Facebook's gambit has backfired.

Gif of statue in front of Facebook banner

The company likely expected some concession or promise to work together from the E.U., but policymakers aren't even giving them that.

"Digital giants must understand that the European continent will resist and affirm its sovereignty," added Le Maire.

What's the likely outcome?

Gif: "Let's get along"
Giphy | StickerGiant

While both sides are talking tough, talks are underway between the E.U. and United States to work on the framework of a new treaty that would hopefully satisfy all parties.

Let's be clear: Facebook isn't pulling out of Europe, at least not yet.

Facebook and Messenger logos
Unsplash | Alexander Shatov

The annual report warning that Meta services may not be available in Europe appears to be gamesmanship, a total bluff.

Meta has walked back these comments since.

"Like other companies, we have followed European rules and rely on Standard Contractual Clauses, and appropriate data safeguards, to operate a global service," said a Meta spokesperson.

Turns out you can't bully the European Union.

A laptop next to a phone showing Facebook
Unsplash | Timothy Hales Bennett

If Meta, or Mark Zuckerberg, thought they could bully the E.U. into making concessions and special rules, they were sorely mistaken.

The likely outcome of this is that Facebook and Instagram will continue to be available across the E.U., likely after some negotiations.

To the Europeans reading this, how would you deal if Facebook and Instagram weren't available to you? Let us know in the comments.