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Sand or Concrete: More on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest’s Terms of Service (TOS)

Photo Credit: Jef Nickerson via Flickr

Updated at the Bottom

Okay, so continuing yesterday’s dissection of various social media platform’s terms of service (TOS), a bunch of questions or comments came up about Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or Pinterest (or really, pick your social media platform — they all have similar TOS) that I’m going to attempt to answer.

Before we begin, I want to preface this by saying I use other social media platforms.  I think they’re wonderful tools of communication.  I just use them with this knowledge in the back of my head, and it colours the decisions I make about what I post.  But I just want that clear: I do post on Twitter, Facebook, et al.

So now let’s talk content since we discussed images and video yesterday.

Go back to the TOS samples I posted yesterday.  You are granting the same rights to your words whenever you post words on those sites.  So that totally amusing, pithy saying you came up with?  They can use that.  The tag line you have for your blog that you also post as the tagline to your Twitter account?  They can use that.  That clever slogan you came up with for Jif peanut butter while you were joking around with your friends?  They have the right to sub-license that slogan to Jif, collect the money for it, and not pass any of that money on to you (royalty free!).

Now, do I believe that this is likely to happen to you?  No, but it could happen to you.  So you just need to know that in order to set your comfort zone.  And again, this is about giving permission.

You still own your content, which means that YOU can also take your pithy statement and slap it on a t-shirt.  It means that by granting them these rights, that you are not losing your rights.  And that’s all well and good.  But you’ve also given any of these sites the right to use your content in that manner as well.  If you are comfortable with that possibility (and I am often comfortable with that possibility in the same way that I am often comfortable posting pictures of myself but not others), you should post that content.  If you are not comfortable with that possibility, you should post it elsewhere or not post it at all.

Which brings us to two different topics that meet at a central point: protecting your content.

If you read those TOS (and the TOS of pretty much any social media site), they have the right to close your account without warning.  Unlike a self-hosted blog that you pay for, free sites are allowed to wipe away your work.  Therefore, if you care about that content a lot, I would keep a copy.  It’s easiest on Twitter: just use a service such as All My Tweets to see them on one page, and then cut-and-paste a copy onto a Word doc.  Simple.  It’s also pretty easy on Facebook.  You can follow their instructions on downloading your content.  I am less familiar with how to do this on other sites, or whether the possibility exists.  When I post on sites other than my own, I always save a copy of my post as a Word doc.  I would lose the comments and such if they chose to delete my work, but at least I would have my thoughts.

The other side of protecting your content is investing yourself in sites that are under your control.  It doesn’t fit my personality nor my preferences on the Internet to invest a lot of energy into building huge followings on Twitter.  Twitter is lovely, but it’s also outside of my control.  They can decide tomorrow to erase my account and all of my followers are gone.  Same with Facebook.  Which freaks me out a little bit.

The same goes for free Blogger and WordPress accounts.  I think most people should start with a free account to see if they enjoy blogging.  But once they’ve determined that they do enjoy blogging and they plan to keep going with it indefinitely, they should switch to a self-hosted account if they can afford to do so.  Again, this only matters if you feel strongly about your content.  Some people look at their blog as they do a sandcastle — something fun to build or beautiful in the moment, but if it washes away, they’re okay with that too.  Other people look at their blog as something more akin to a concrete statue and they want a promise that it will be there in the future.  Self-hosting does that.

In between are the people who don’t need it to be concrete but would be sad if it washed away, and those people should simply do a poor man’s blog backup continuously — you will always have your content, but you can release your fears of losing your space.  Because the possibility of losing your space is built into the TOS as well.

There is two things we’re talking about here: (1) permanence and (2) rights.  The permanence part is clear: if you self-host, you control your space.  As long as you continue to pay for it and you don’t trespass on your host’s TOS, you have your space.  The same is not true for free WordPress or Blogger sites nor for Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or Pinterest accounts.  You own the content, meaning, you hold the rights to it.  If you want to publish it in a book, you can.  If you want to create photocopies of it, you can.  But THEY own the site, the space online.  And they graciously give it to you for free.

So I think the important thing to think about is whether you are more of a sandcastle person or a concrete sculpture person, or do you fall somewhere in between where you neither need the permanence of concrete but you don’t love the impermanence of sand?  And in knowing that about yourself, are you making choices on the Internet that fit your preferences?

I know that I lean much more heavily towards concrete than sand — the numerous boxes in my storage room saving artifacts from childhood are a case in point — so self-hosting not only makes sense, but it is the best choice for me once I look at the TOS of various free blogging platforms.  I put my greatest efforts into my blog, and less of an effort into other social media platforms just because I like the amount of control and permanence the blog affords me.  It’s also about ownership: I like to own the words I like.  Which is to say that I also don’t mind placing my words elsewhere (comments, other social media platforms, even guest blogging), but I am picky about which words I give to others and which ones I keep for myself in terms of giving away the rights of usage.  I don’t expect other social media platforms will use my words, but I also don’t want to give them permission to do so.

Are you more of a sand person, a concrete person, or — like me — do you fall somewhere in between while leaning more towards one end than the other?  And more importantly, do your choices online reflect those preferences right now?

Photo Credit: Hendricks Photos via Flickr.


If people are interested, I can write up a tutorial on how to move to self-hosting.  It’s not that difficult to do.  I sort of see it as an insurance policy for my blog rather than the ability to utilize all the cool things self-hosting includes (such as hosting sound files or video).


1 Michaela { 05.23.12 at 3:21 pm }

Okay I am definitely more of a concrete person and I had no idea about Blogger and self hosting.

So with that said how do I go about self hosting my blog?


2 Michaela { 05.23.12 at 3:23 pm }

Oh and I hate to admit this but when it comes to TOS I am terrible and just click Accept most of the time.

I have actually joked around saying that one day someone was going to knock on my door saying I owed them a kidney b/c it was listed somewhere in those Terms I didn’t read.

3 lostintranslation { 05.23.12 at 4:32 pm }

Interesting question. I wouldn’t mind if my comments on FB would get lost, they’re not that important in the long run. Pictures are saved on my computer and separate disks, so that’s not a problem either. If my blog would be dumped, that would be another story though, and I have to admit that making a backup is still on my to-do list… and I will consider switching to a self-hosted account. So to come back to your question I guess it depends on the media if I’m a sand or concrete person…

4 serenity { 05.23.12 at 4:46 pm }

I am actually thinking of deleting my FB, Google +, and twitter accounts. To me, those aren’t permanent. The pictures are all backed up, and I don’t really use those mediums beyond staying in touch with people.

But I had never thought about the reason for self-hosting a blog. I’ve been blogging long enough now that I really don’t want to LOSE my words. But I know self-hosting is a lot of work, too, which has always stopped me from investing time into it. WordPress is simply just too easy for me to keep using.

But if my words melted away off the internet, I’d be really sad to have lost it, but it doesn’t change my having experienced it. Blogging for me is less about creating history and more about processing the things in the here and now.

But I was never a keeper of things; I have ONE stuffed bunny and a tee shirt left over from my childhood. Maybe that makes me a sand person.

Huh. Thought provoking.


5 Her Royal Fabulousness { 05.23.12 at 5:30 pm }

This is really useful stuff! I’m curious, how would I go about choosing a host if I wanted to switch to a pay blog?

6 Lollipopgoldstein { 05.23.12 at 5:34 pm }

If people are interested, I can write up a tutorial on how to move to self-hosting. It’s not that difficult to do. I sort of see it as an insurance policy for my blog rather than the ability to utilize all the cool things self-hosting includes (such as hosting sound files or video).

7 a { 05.23.12 at 9:13 pm }

I’m totally sand on social media. I’m pretty concrete everywhere else – I still have email correspondence about finding my dog a new home over 10 years ago. Probably has something to do with anonymity…

8 Anjali { 05.23.12 at 9:58 pm }

Yes, would LOVE the tutorial. I never thought about the wordpress blog thing. Consider me a wanna be convert from sandcastle to concrete!

9 Justine { 05.23.12 at 11:33 pm }

It’s funny … I keep meaning to use Blog2Print to make a cookbook out of my blog, but keep putting it off, partly because I want some of what’s there to be permanent, but some of it I’m less sure I need to keep (which would mean I’d need to actually weed through everything and edit, egad).

I don’t know why this is … it’s not that I don’t treasure my words, but perhaps it’s more like I want to curate a portfolio?

On the other hand, I’ve considered self-hosting … but I always thought that was for people with, like, FAMOUS blogs. 🙂

10 Elizabeth :: Bébé Suisse { 05.24.12 at 3:04 am }

Even though my professional training would require me to read every word of a contract very carefully on a client’s behalf, when it comes to me and a TOS, I never look. Not the smartest, I know, but at least I’m in the majority!

I tend to be a concrete person. I recently closed my Facebook account, but before doing so, I uploaded everything my account – pics, wall postings, messages, etc. It was so nice to go back and have a smile at silly little wall exchanges from long ago.

I used to be better about backing up my blog but have become rather lazy about it, which is foolish given that I would be devastated if I lost it. So thank you for the lazy man’s back-up advice, and here’s another vote for the self-hosting tutorial, which I’d love to hear about!

11 Tiara { 05.24.12 at 11:18 am }

I would love to learn about self-hosting…the more I blog, the more important that option seems to me.

12 Sarah { 05.24.12 at 11:58 am }

Yes please on the tutorial on self hosting. Also (this is a dumb question, so be ready) the fact that I pay the $10 a year to blogger isn’t actually self hosting, right? Like I pay for my address, but I still use blogger for everything, so I am thinking that is NOT the same thing. But I cannot tell you the devistation that would be my heart if my blog went anywhere. It is Henry’s baby book, my infertility journey, my life for over five years. And I tried to do the poor mans back up, but it was just SO MANY POSTS. Thousands of pictures, 100’s of 1000’s of words. So I never finished it. And that reminds me I REALLY need to get back to that because… my BLLLLOOOOGGGG! I LOVE IT!

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