This week, Instagram announced changes to its terms and conditions that mean from January 16th, 2013, they’ll be able to sell users' photos to companies to use in advertisements. Then, in an Internet minute, the company announced that this wouldn't be happening after all.
So that gratuitous selfie you took to show your new hairstyle? That night you were having such an incredible time with your friends at the club you took photos the whole time to capture how much of an incredible time you were having? Every single picture of food and your nail artthat you've taken, and the arty photo of your cat with a witty caption -- in the end, they all won't be used for commercial purposes.
But if the powers that be at Instagram had, in fact, been on a mission to aggressively monetize our content and data in the pursuit of profit, would that have been so surprising? Isn't that what businesses tend to do -- pursue profit?
Predictably, the proposed (then scrapped) policy changes caused an uproar. We’re the generation that likes to get outraged about things, tweet furiously about them and then forget about our pseudo-rage as soon as the next thing it’s trendy to be outraged about crops up. Plus, I think we were all secretly worried our picture hashtagged #Imsodrunk would end up part of a “Say No To Drugs, Say Yes To Spanx” campaign.
Perhaps it’s 2012 fatigue (I’m so over this year and all its accompanying madness), but I couldn't muster the will to be outraged about Instagram's policy change. Believe me, I’m trying. I’m a Politics grad, a pseudo-Socialist and could legitimately wear a training bra; women like me are hardwired toward being outraged.
Then again, I’m no longer a naïve net citizen. I think the shift came the first time Facebook changed their layout. We all complained and Facebook ignored us. It dawned on me that being an e-citizen of any social network that allows you to join for free comes with a single cost; you surrender all your rights on determining how they operate and treat you.
Social networks and apps with social elements are not direct democracies, nor are they compelled to operate like one. Twitter, Facebook, et al are aggressive, self-governed hegemonic powers, who rule from the top down. Like in a benevolent dictatorship, we work to their rules and they will do whatever they must do in pursuit of their aim. And their aim is dominance via acquiring profit. However, like most subjects of benevolent dictators, we only remember our complete lack of power when they choose to exert theirs.
The great thing is that unlike a real dictatorship, we can easily release ourselves from their control by deleting our account. It is that simple.
I know why I’m on Instagram. I like pictures of cake, shoes and inspiring quotes. I like that it allows me to upload pictures of cake, shoes and inspiring quotes. I can also e-stalk men I fancy and all the women who like their pictures. I get to do all of these things for free! Are we so entitled that we believe we have the right to dictate how someone should run a service we don't pay for?
I get that the Internet is a burgeoning sphere and we’re still in the phase of negotiating the e-social contract. Therefore we must question and probe policy changes made by influential web powers that could have harmful long-term ramifications.
Were Instagram’s proposed policy changes illegal? No. Were they ethical? Well, that’s contingent on the position of your ethical compass. However the capitalism system from which we reap the benefits wasn't built on ethics. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise.
You know why else I couldn't get outraged? Because I know deep down Instagram is terrible for our aggregate self-esteem. Let me stop projecting -- Instagram isn’t good for my self-esteem. Everyone else’s life looks better. Their food looks better. Their hair looks better. There’s that smug twit with the great skin who takes pictures and writes #nofilter (despite the whole point of Instagram being the bloody filters!)
The filters, validation via likes and comments, etc. -- I hate it. I hate that I smile when that asshole I used to date likes my pictures. I hate that I follow that asshole because I’m still curious. I hate that I wonder why one picture got more likes than another.
I love that Valencia makes my tits look better and Amaro is like digital blot powder. I love that if you sit on your head while drunk and squint while looking at a photo of me filtered using Hefe, I resemble Kerry Washington. I hate that my indecisiveness means I’ll probably never deal with my cognitive dissonance about an app I spend far too much time on.
I hate that I’m voluntarily using an app where, deep down, I believe many are using pretty pictures to hide ugly lives. However, like most, I’ll stay on Instagram until it becomes like MySpace and some other younger, trendier photo-sharing app comes along.