Opinion: Let’s stop unsubstantiated internet rage

This week there was a massive storm caused by Instagram‘s updated terms of service (ToS). It started with a few tweets linking to the page, and quickly spread around tech websites and eventually into the mainstream media. Instagram was claiming the right to sell your photographs for advertising, everyone said. People threatened to leave Instagram; and some did.

But there was a problem. In the few hours it took for this storm to erupt, there had been no contact with anyone at Instagram, and like the best viral rumors, most people were repeating wild claims without investigating them.

Companies need to be clearer

When I read the Terms of service, I didn’t think Instagram was saying “we can sell your photos”, but I could see the language was unclear. So I waited. Now we know Instagram did not mean people to interpret their updated terms of service in this way, so hopefully the storm will abate.

Instagram is at fault here, as legal documents are easy to misinterpret, and we know from Facebook that they can cause massive controversy. Instagram should have explained first, in plain English, what their changes meant.

We need to be more responsible

We are also at fault. This year on Facebook I have witnessed a string of increasingly embarrassing rumors flying around, from ungrounded privacy concerns to fake messages from Morgan Freeman. We have to learn to do some basic fact checking as users of social media and networks. Too many of us click ‘like’ or ‘retweet’ without even reading the source material. This adds to a huge echo chamber of misinformed noise, making it difficult for the truth to be heard. The truth is usually much more mundane than the rumor, so makes for less viral sharing.

For me, 2012 has shown that citizens of the internet need to think about their responsibilities, not just their rights. Sure, you have a right to privacy, and for your photos not to be exploited, but you also have a responsibility not to spread false rumors.

Google is your friend. You can quickly check the validity of a claim with a search. Don’t share or like if you haven’t actually read the article/document being shared. Take your time. Rushing blindly into a Twitter storm or a Facebook viral rumor-mill can make you look silly.

In 2013, let’s all take a step back, a deep breath and take our time before sharing opinions and stories on the internet. Facebook and Twitter will be much nicer places as a result.

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