Social Media in 2012: What the Instagram Fiasco Teaches Us About Internet Users

by Jordan Richardson on December 20, 2012

It seems to be a generally accepted principle of Internet dynamics: fury spreads like wildfire, while cogent and/or measured discussion on any subject rarely occurs. The principle was in full effect on Monday after photo-sharing start-up Instagram announced a terms of service update.

These changed terms were designed to reflect the company’s new relationship with Facebook, an inevitability since the social networking giant’s acquisition of Instagram earlier this year. And as quickly as the terms were released, there were articles telling users the nitty-gritty – sort of.

Consider the Huffington Post distillation: “Chances are you haven’t read all of the text and probably won’t. So here’s what you need to know about the new Terms of Service, which takes effect on January 16, 2013.”

The article went on to explain that, without a doubt, “Your data will be used for ads.”

The concept sent Instagram users into the predictable tizzies, with popular users calling it a “suicide note” – that’s not dramatic at all – and others quitting because of the new rules. A similar outcry, far more explosive than any outcries over other things (like child poverty or other trivialities), came after Netflix announced that it was kind of raising its rates a little.

By the end of Tuesday, a day of sound and fury if there ever was one in the life of Instagram, company co-founder Kevin Systrom tries to calm things down with a little clarity.

For one thing, the photos on Instagram would not be sold to anyone. And photos would not be part of any advertisements. Users still own their photos and private photos are still private.

Systrom did blame some of the fiasco on the jargon used in the updated terms of service, but in truth most of the actual information people received about Instagram’s changes came from other sources like the aforementioned article. It is the distillation of information, not the information itself, that usually leads to these sorts of chaotic outbursts across multiple social networking platforms.

Consider how news travels. The tragic and deeply terrible shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School were even touched by the scourge of social networking, as many took to Twitter and Facebook to point fingers at the wrong perpetrator. So fierce was the attack that major news networks like CNN picked up the information, once against distilled and far from reality, and ran with it.

Life on the information superhighway is tricky, especially when the speed limit seems to be the only thing that matters. But with a little care and attention to detail, perhaps we can avoid the sorts of aforementioned eruptions in the future.

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