In case you’ve been living off the grid the last couple days, Instagram (now a wholly owned subsidiary of Facebook Inc) released new terms and conditions. Buried deep within this 6,000 word document was new language allowing them to use your photos however they wanted and for commercial gain, without your permission. This caused a blogosphere/social media universe firestorm of biblical proportions. Users were rightfully pissed off, felt manipulated, used and duped. Facebook and Twitter were overrun with promises to shut down accounts, file for divorce and bring in the National Guard. The terms and conditions aren’t going into effect until January 16th, but its never too early for some righteous indignation posted on Facebook for your like-minded friends to share and commiserate.
I was struck by the intensity of the public response. (Though I don’t think they’re wrong — just possibly a bit overheated.) Taking a long, deep breath I read all the posts and delved into the mainstream media’s coverage, looking for some “fair and balanced” reporting. Here are a few thoughts, for what they’re worth:
- What was Instagram (slash Facebook) thinking? Did they actually think that no one would read through the entire (intentionally murky) document? That we’d all be too busy wrapping presents, too drunk on egg nog to notice? How would you feel if that charming photo of your beloved Grannie wound up as the centerpiece of a campaign for adult diapers? Or that oh so embarrassing photo of you slumped over the bar on St Patrick’s Day was used to advertise erectile disfunction? Let’s call this whole episode what it is: an epic PR fuck up of the highest magnitude.
- Instagram as its widely used today is kind of a joke. 99% of the users post endlessly self-indulgent, amateur photos of their cats, sunsets and the all-too-infamous “selfies.” You know you’ve really made it when the parody video goes viral. (Take a look. It’s actually funny and manages to satirize Instagram AND Nickelback at the same time.) Nowadays everyone is the manager of their own brand identity, their own personal VP of Marketing. Here I am at this fabulous concert. What an amazing vacation I’m having. Jealous yet? But so what. Who cares. Don’t follow them. Curate what you choose to look at and respond to. In our day-to-day lives we are saturated with imagery, most of it bad, but of course you can choose to ignore most of it. Are you really concerned that all the servers storing those billions of images will shut down the power grid?
- I have to say I actually like Instagram and use it all the time for work. Somehow, without my noticing, Instagram became a visual diary of my life, a photographic record of my friends, family and meaningful events. And for someone with a notoriously faulty memory this is an indescribable gift. But equally importantly, Instagram has become a source of inspiration and reference for my assignments as an art director and photo editor. Many of the people I choose to follow are talented photographers, and many of them are producing extraordinary work on their iPhones and sharing it daily. I would suggest that in a few cases this personal, off-the-cuff work is stronger and more profound than their assignment work. I’m actually hiring photographers because of their Instagram work. I”m seeing depth and quality that I didn’t always see on their websites. And for this reason I’d be sad to see all of you immensely talented photographers bail. You know who you are!
- I have to ask: What did you think would happen when Facebook paid ONE BILLION DOLLARS to buy a company with five employees? Of course they’re going to monetize their investment. No one ever confused them with a non-profit. It’s not when, it’s how, that’s the problem. Had Instagram changed their Terms of Service in a transparent, public way, clearly stating the changes, and promising to only use your images if you gave the company permission (and possibly offered a modest fee) all of this drama could have been avoided. So, what’s happened since the day before yesterday? Instagram is backpedalling as fast as they can. The bad PR is lethal. And users are abandoning ship like its the last voyage of the Titanic. Ultimately the terms will be modified, well before January 16th, and you can decide whether you can accept the contract. Your call. If you don’t believe me you can read it in The Paper of Record.
So, here’s my Modest Proposal. Don’t export all those beautiful photos to Flickr quite yet. Take a deep breath. Sit tight. See how this all plays out. You can always bail in mid January, just as I might do if they don’t make the terms equitable. I’m an optimist: maybe we won’t plunge off the fiscal cliff, maybe they will ban assault rifles, and maybe, just maybe we can all still keep our Instagram accounts — because I know you’d hate to miss that really meaningful picture I took of my cat.
(Originally published at chessdesign.tumblr.com.)
— Charlie Hess