If you use social media at all, you’ve no doubt come across people posting some very legal sounding language on their pages. These warnings typically start with something like, “I hereby declare….” They then proceed to state that all the information and photos on their page are private; that they are not to be used by any individual or institution. Some folks think this protects their photos, their videos, and their updates about their family, from the world at large. Unfortunately, someone might as well post the Constitution of the Gumdrop Kingdom for all the legal protection these kinds of posts actually grant. John Oliver has explained as much in this Last Week Tonight web exclusive.
While posting and re-posting these snake oil status updates can’t actually harm you directly, they can lull you into a false sense of security. Which is why it’s important for you to take a step back, and examine the world your social media accounts actually exist in.
User Agreements, The Law, And Your Social Media
We’ve been told our entire lives that we have legal rights. Unfortunately, most of us don’t actually know what those rights are. Instead of cracking open a legal textbook, or looking up a reputable source on Google, many of us get suckered in by people who have no idea what they’re talking about.
For example, if you take a photograph with your camera, then that picture does belong to you. You have copyright of it as an artistic creation; if you wish, you can sell that image to others who wish to publish it. This is how photographers make their living. However, the instant you publish that photograph on your Facebook page, it isn’t yours anymore. (Or at least it isn’t just yours.) It belongs to Facebook.
That Wall of Text We All Skipped
You see, when you joined Facebook, you had to sign the user agreement. You might remember it as that wall of legal text you scrolled past to click the box saying you agreed. Whether you didn’t read it at all, or read it and didn’t understand it doesn’t matter; the point is that you agreed. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, and signing a contract you didn’t understand doesn’t make it any less binding. So, while you might have just flown through that process, you probably missed the part where it states Facebook has rights to all the content you post on your page. And the part where they keep records of things you delete for months before finally taking it off their servers. You may have even skipped the part where they can use your likeness without notification or compensation. Because… you are a Facebook user.
Posting one of these status updates is like a child declaring his room is off-limits to his parents. It does nothing, even if you think the declaration should be respected.
What Can You Do Instead?
Lots of people want to have it both ways when it comes to their online lives. They want to maintain complete control of their information, pictures, and video, but they also want to use the platforms of social media websites to stay connected to their family and friends, as well as share their information with the world.
Unfortunately, it’s one or the other.
Websites like Facebook are run by companies who clocked the man hours, wrote the code, and created the product that you’re using. Because, make no mistake, social media sites are a business where you are both the consumer, and the product that’s being sold. It’s why they’re so adamant that the company has access to all the information you give them, after all. They’re assembling customer demographics, and looking at all the content users like you are creating, which they now have access to.
You cannot use that service without plugging yourself into their network, and playing by their rules. Because they created it, so if you want to use it you must agree to the terms they’re dictating. And — legally — you can’t agree, then post a strongly worded take-back on your profile and expect it to hold any water.
Ok, so… What Can You Actually Do?
There is a solution, though, if you’re genuinely concerned about how your information is being used online. If you want to keep your data out of the hands of big companies that run social media websites, and you want to be certain that any videos or pictures you’ve taken remain yours and yours alone, the answer is pretty simple; don’t share it on social media. Don’t post it to your profile, don’t put it in your timeline, and don’t tag all your friends in it. If you want it to remain private, then keep it off the world’s radar.
We live in a world that is becoming more interconnected by the day. When employers look at our LinkedIn pages instead of our resumes, and when we use Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family members whose phone numbers we don’t even know anymore, it seems like social media is something that’s as necessary to our lifestyles as running water or electricity. However, these platforms aren’t public utilities, and no one is entitled to use them. They are, in a very real sense, like digital nightclubs. Even if there’s no cover to get in, there’s a big list of rules for how things work. You can’t go in if you don’t agree to the rules; and if you break them then you get punished for it.
You can’t agree, then go to the bar, and when the bouncer tells you to get out just blithely inform them that because of this legal language tattooed on your chest the rules don’t apply to you.
For more information about business law, user agreements, and your rights, simply contact us today.