Instagram, the popular Facebook-owned photo-sharing service, was faced with a firestorm of controversy on Tuesday with the announcement of proposed new terms of service. The new TOS appeared to allow the service to use user-submitted content for advertising purposes and asked users to “…agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos….in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you.”
The response from users, including many prominent musicians, was swift. Some used social media to voice their discontent: Chan Marshall (aka Cat Power) instagrammed a photo of the offending Terms of Service with the caption “BUMMER.” Casey Dienel of White Hinterland pledged to delete her instagram account before January 15 — the date at which the new terms of service will become effective. Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) echoed this sentiment, tweeting “f**k this. Let’s start a new instavibe.”
Like many social technology companies, Instagram has worked to cultivate both well-known and emerging musicians as users. Artists can be early adopters who often lead the way for their fans to become users as well, creating exciting sharable content and growing the user base. But tech companies should realize that musicians can be early defectors as well — the first to jump off the wagon when services no longer serve their needs, or terms are altered in objectionable ways. And when key influencers leave, their fans may go with them. Furthermore, as people who make their living in part from intellectual property, it’s fair to say that musicians are particularly sensitive to having third parties appropriate their creative work. This is especially true when those third parties have billion dollar valuations and no apparent plan to share any revenue with the users that generate content.
Faced with widespread backlash, Instagram has since backpedaled on some of the changes, promising to “answer your questions, fix any mistakes, and eliminate the confusion.” But as awareness grows about the power of social media companies to exploit user-generated content for advertisers’ and shareholders’ interests, it remains to be seen whether artists will stay on board or jump ship. Many musicans feel pressured to continue to create social media content to keep their fans engaged; others simply enjoy connecting with friends and fans. Amber Coffman of Dirty Projectors spoke for many when she tweeted “Bummed about this instagram thing. I really love grammin. What to do….”
All of this takes place under increasing scrutiny from lawmakers about privacy on digital platforms. Outside of a patchwork of state regulations and service agreements with users, there are currently no hard-and-fast rules for what is permissible with regard to user data. To learn more about the current state of play in online privacy (and it means for musicians and fans), check out FMC’s 2011 article Dude, Where’s My Data?