Briefly, on Instagram

I can’t say I didn’t see this coming. When Facebook acquired Instagram I suspected it would come to this, eventually. I remember I stopped posting snaps for a while, then I got sucked in the routine again. I should have stopped for good. Well, the time has come. I’m tired of Instagram. What irked me most of this recent change to the Terms of Service, surprisingly, wasn’t really the change itself, but more how it was handled.

A lot of people have written at length about this faux pas on Instagram’s part, so the best I can do is to point to a couple of good reads. First, I really enjoyed Mat Honan’s Why I Quit Instagram, especially when he writes:

I believe Instagram should be able to make money. Facebook telegraphed that something like this was coming just last week, and my reaction at the time was “good.” I was happy that Instagram had a revenue model. It isn’t a charity. And companies that don’t make money are doomed to fail. Facebook paid a lot of damn money to buy Instagram, and it’s natural to want some return on that.

Yet I also believe it’s wrong to take people’s photos – out of context – for use in advertisements. With no way to opt out.

The issue is about more than using photos of my baby daughter, or deceased grandmother, in ads. The greater concern should be that the company would forge ahead with such a plan without offering any other option to the very users and data that built it.

There are a lot of other ways to make money. Sell an ad in the stream. Sell an ad on individual users’ pages. Sell an ad against search results, and another for tags that relate to upcoming events. Offer “pro” features — like special filters or promoted profiles. I’m no expert here, but I don’t have to be – clearly Systrom and Krieger know how to make a buck.

Which were exactly my sentiments when I heard about the upcoming changes.

Instagram responded rather quickly to the situation, trying to clarify and course-correct with their Thank you, and we’re listening piece. Sorry, but in my view, this rushed ‘clarification’ has had the effect of actually muddling things up. And I wasn’t the only one noticing that. Read this great article by Nick Asbury: Instagram didn’t get the tone wrong, because he express my very same thoughts and doubts more briefly and clearly than I could:

This was the main offending paragraph in the terms and conditions:

To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you.

There is nothing wrong with the tone of this paragraph. It scores highly on clarity, using plain language, active verbs, personal pronouns (us and you) – all the things writers go on about every day.

There is a lot wrong with the content of the paragraph, at least according to thousands of Instagram users. But that’s not a language issue – it’s a policy issue. Any writers trying to use this as an example of the importance of ‘tone of voice’ are misinterpreting the problem. To an expert in tone of voice, every problem looks like a tone of voice issue.

The situation isn’t helped by Instagram’s disingenuous ‘clarification’, which tries to imply that this was all a miscommunication caused by ‘confusing’ language.

Again, this statement from Instagram has been hailed in various places as a good example of crisis communication – clear and helpful in the way the Ts and Cs weren’t.

But again, this is completely wrong. The Ts and Cs were absolutely clear, even if their content was controversial.

By contrast, the ‘clarification’ is slippery, mealy-mouthed and contradictory.

Analysing the Advertising on Instagram section of the afore-linked ‘clarification’ by Instagram, Nick Asbury writes:

This sounds pretty good at first – the blunt honesty of ‘Instagram was created to become a business’ (actually a meaningless truism) and ‘To be clear: it is not our intention to sell your photos.’ But there’s some really slippery stuff going on. Note how ‘it is not our intention to sell your photos’ isn’t the same as saying ‘we won’t sell your photos’. Despite the forthrightness of the tone, the message is still unclear – will you or won’t you?

And that’s the point. Will Instagram sell our photos or not? All this situation keeps sending mixed signals, and it almost feels as if Instagram didn’t really think their strategy through before announcing the changes. Maybe, in classic Facebook style, they thought that most people simply wouldn’t notice or couldn’t be bothered to react or take action, and when things went a bit differently than expected, the backtracking and course-correcting started. But in my view, they just ended up tripping over their shoelaces. And I’m getting tired of these things. I’m getting tired of companies who disrespect their user base with controversial actions and delivering patronising speeches the way politicians do. People made Instagram successful, and this is what they get in return.

So I’m through with Instagram. As I wrote on The Quillink annotated, I’ll stop uploading photos before the Terms of Service changes take effect, and I’ll limit my use and presence on Instagram to a sort of ‘read only’ mode, by keeping on following my current contacts, and liking and/or commenting their photos, because I respect their will to keep sharing their shots, and many people I follow don’t just upload what they had for breakfast or lunch, but truly amazing photos worth acknowledging.

As for me, you’ll find me on Flickr, where I’ve always been since 2005. I’ll keep posting a daily photo over at Momentile, and I’ll keep maintaining Type Happens, my (sporadically updated) photoblog on found typography. I still don’t know if I’ll migrate my previously posted Instagrams in a dedicated photo set on Flickr, or if I’ll start a personal Instagram-style photoblog. Anyway, there are so many ways to share our photos out there today. So, bye-bye Instagram.

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About Riccardo Mori

Writer. Translator. Mac consultant. Enthusiast photographer. • If you like what I write, please consider supporting my writing by purchasing my short stories, Minigrooves or by making a donation. Thank you!