“I meant what I said and I said what I meant.”
— Dr. Seuss, Horton Hatches the Egg
“Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!”
— Sir Walter Scott, Marmion, Canto vi. Stanza 17.
So yesterday it was Instagram’s turn to establish beyond any shadow of a doubt that a social media company can often be utterly and absolutely socially inept.
And it should be a wake-up call to us all: we simply have got to read and understand these contracts and — when necessary, as it certainly was yesterday — object to them and threaten to vote with our feet.
For those new to this controversy, let The Legal Genealogist explain.
What the heck is Instagram?
Good question. It’s a photo-sharing and social-networking site that was started in 2010, built up a significant user base, and was bought out by Facebook in 2012. Its major claim to fame is that users can upload a photograph, apply filters to it, and the images are all presented in a square format that can then be shared both on Instagram and on other social networks.1
Why would genealogists use Instagram?
Lots of reasons: it’s easy; it’s got a big user base; it allows both individual genealogists and genealogical societies to build an online brand.
If you want to know more, DearMyrtle did a webinar with Carrie Keele of the Not Your Mother’s Genealogy Blog on ideas to integrate Instagram into genealogy back in August,2 and the idea’s been featured in UpFront, the blog of the National Genealogical Society.3
So what did Instagram do yesterday?
Of course, the reality is, that dog was never gonna hunt.
And, more than anything else, any half-way competent social media operator should have known that it was never going to get away with sneaking a provision like that past its social-media-user customers. It was thoroughly predictable that, the minute word got out, all hell was going to break loose.
“Instagram says it now has the right to sell your photos,” reported C|Net — with 533 comments posted in reply.6 “You could star in an advertisement — without your knowledge,” said The New York Times.7 “Instagram Will Basically Sign Your Life Away,” said Mashable.8
And how did Instagram respond?
It did what any self-respecting rights-grabber would do when it was caught with its hand in its users’ cookie jars. It baldly asserted that it hadn’t meant to do any such thing.
By about 5:30 p.m. EST yesterday, Instagram backpedaled at about a kazillion miles an hour and said it didn’t mean to put its hand in its users’ cookie jars, and it didn’t have any plans to actually take any of its users’ cookies. Its co-founder, Kevin Systrom, wrote in a blog post:
(The new language) was interpreted by many that we were going to sell your photos to others without any compensation. This is not true and it is our mistake that this language is confusing. To be clear: it is not our intention to sell your photos. We are working on updated language in the terms to make sure this is clear. …
The language we proposed also raised question about whether your photos can be part of an advertisement. We do not have plans for anything like this and because of that we’re going to remove the language that raised the question.9
And, he lamented, “Legal documents are easy to misinterpret.” Basically, Systrom’s backpedalling boiled down to this: well, hey, it didn’t really mean what it said.
Which is, of course, why the quote from Horton Hatches the Egg is featured at the top of today’s blog.
And how did Instagram users respond?
They said, politely (well, in most cases at least), that they didn’t quite believe Instagram as far as they could throw it. Said one user on Twitter: “just because a CEO says “we didn’t mean it,” doesn’t mean all’s well.” Another wrote about the “we didn’t mean it” blog post: “I call BS, but read and make your own decision.” Said a third: “the “explanation” didn’t make it any more clear, because Instagram doesn’t think we’re entitled to such.” And yet another’s reaction exactly mirrored mine: “#instagram lawyers worked overtime today. A simple summation of the days events: foot-in-mouth.”
Which is, of course, why the quote from Sir Walter Scott is featured prominently above.
Now I’m not saying the whole backpedal was part of a deception, mind you. I’d never say any such thing. No, not me.
But Instagram certainly found itself in a tangled web, didn’t it?
So what does this mean for us?
Hmmm… maybe I need another quote… what’s that old saw about eternal vigilance…?
- Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com), “Instagram,” rev. 18 Dec 2012. ↩
- “DearMYRTLE’s Instagram for Genealogists Workshop Webinar featuring Carrie Keele,” DearMyrtle, (http://www.dearmyrtle.com/webinars/ : accessed 18 Dec 2012). ↩
- “Instagram — Might we use it for genealogy?,” UpFront, posted 28 Sep 2012 (http://upfront.ngsgenealogy.org : accessed 18 Dec 2012). ↩
- “Privacy and Terms of Service Changes on Instagram,” Instagram Blog, posted 17 Dec 2012 (http://blog.instagram.com : accessed 18 Dec 2012). ↩
- Declan McCullagh, “Instagram says it now has the right to sell your photos,” C|Net, 17 Dec 2012 (http://news.cnet.com : accessed 18 Dec 2012). ↩
- Jenna Wortham and Nick Bilton, “What Instagram’s New Terms of Service Mean for You,” New York Times, posted 17 Dec 2012 (http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com : accessed 18 Dec 2012). ↩
- Chris Taylor, “Instagram Will Basically Sign Your Life Away,” Mashable, posted 17 Dec 2012 (http://mashable.com : accessed 18 Dec 2012). ↩
- “Thank you, and we’re listening,” Instagram Blog, posted 18 Dec 2012 (http://blog.instagram.com : accessed 18 Dec 2012). ↩