Why My Kids Won’t Have a Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or Pinterest Account When They Turn 13
I didn’t get my driver’s license the day I turned 16. My parents made me wait until later in the summer when I had logged more hours of practice on highways and they were more certain that I was capable of making intelligent, split-second decisions before they placed me behind the wheel of a two ton instrument of death. Okay, so cars aren’t actually used in that manner — they aren’t a weapon built to mow down unsuspecting people — but they can be used in that manner by the very nature of their defining characteristics. They are heavy, they are powerful, they are controlled by people. Was I cranky at 16? Of course. But now I understand why my parents made me wait (and am sort of grateful that they did).
I hope the twins equally understand why I probably won’t allow them to start various social media accounts when they turn 13.
We’ve been allowing them to practice drive on the Internet on sites with user-friendly terms of service (TOS). We’ve had a few social media fender benders — learning incidents about what not to upload, as it were — so we’re lucky that we chose sites wisely for their first forays into online communication. It was pretty low stakes, and we were able to undo the problematic postings. The same won’t be true when they get to the biggies: Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest (let’s call them FTGP for this post, pronounced fit-gip).
Just as cars aren’t actually weapons but have the potential to become a lethal object, FTGP are not image license sellers in the same transparent vein as Getty Images, but they have the potential to become an image license seller with their TOS. Am I making you gulp? Good. Then read on because I think TOS and release forms are so important to understand and read before you create an account or sign them. And most people I know start accounts or sign forms without reading them and understanding them completely.
Get that? You’re in the majority if you create an account without reading the TOS first. I am in the minority with my extreme anal-retentiveness. This post is not about judging; it’s about arming you with information so you can make good decisions on current or future social media sites (and frankly, this information is applicable to the release forms you often sign with activities and events).
Let’s start with some keywords that we always want to notice in regards to a contract when it comes to images:
- transferable (meaning, they can give someone else the same rights they have to your photo*)
- sub-licensable (meaning, they can license your image to a third-party vendor and collect a fee)
- royalty free (meaning, that money they could get for sub-licensing will not be passed along to you)
- worldwide (meaning, this is as broad as you can get)
- adapt (they’re allowed to change your content)
- modify (they can really really change your content)
- perpetual (the contract is self-renewing)
- irrevocable (you can’t end the agreement)
Those are all the words I scan for immediately, and if they appear, that’s my cue to proceed with caution. Which doesn’t mean that I don’t use the site. I just proceed with caution. I have an account with most social media sites.
So which of the Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or Pinterest TOS contain some of those key trigger words? The answer: all of them**.
- Facebook: You grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License).
- Twitter: By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).
- Google+: When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. (This new wording is a step up from their old wording: “You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.” But I have to be frank, even if the wording has changed, the idea is still there.)
- Pinterest: you grant us a non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable, sublicensable, worldwide license to use, display, reproduce, re-pin, modify (e.g., re-format), re-arrange, and distribute your User Content on Pinterest for the purposes of operating and providing the Service(s) to you and to our other Users.
(Side note: the TOS are obviously much longer than this and contain a lot of other information. I’ve pulled out these sections to explain what rights you grant the site when you create an account.)
Do I truly fear that FTGP is going to sell my image to a third-party vendor, and then the license for that photo will be purchased by an online magazine to use as the visual in an article titled “Ten Kinds of Women You Want to Avoid?” No. I think it’s a very remote possibility. But do I believe that FTGP gave themselves the ability to do just that if I post my pictures to their site, well, yes, that is clearly part of the contract. And that raises my red flag because unless that possibility is something they foresee doing in the future, there is no reason to include it in a terms of service.
My philosophy is that if someone tells me they might do something in the future, believe them.***
Of course, even if you choose not to participate in the medium, it doesn’t mean you’re actually protected. For instance, if I am on Facebook and I take a picture of you this summer and upload it on Facebook, I have just given Facebook the right to sub-license this picture of you. That picture could be sold to a third party vendor and used in an advertisement. So it’s of you, but someone else owns the picture because they took it, and they uploaded it to Facebook and set this chain of events in motion.
And THAT is exactly what I think of when I talk about uploading pictures of my children online. I realized in reading reactions to those posts that we’re all working with different information, and I am focusing solely on those TOS and what they mean in the largest sense of the word. In that last paragraph, it was between me and you, me making a choice for you and you being cranky with that choice. Which is why I don’t place the twins in that position, making a choice for them that cannot be undone (remember the words perpetual and irrevocable).
I don’t post ANY pictures without asking the subject in the picture if they are okay having their picture uploaded to my blog or another site. When I ask an adult, I expect them to be able to make a sound decision thinking through the possible consequences of having their image out there. But I can’t ask a child and receive an answer that takes into account the possible consequences. I can only get an answer that boils down to likey/no likey. So I personally err on the side of posting nothing because they can always make the choice in the future to post something.
Which goes back to that age 13 threshold — I just don’t think most 13-year-olds can comprehend what I wrote above and understand how far-reaching small decisions can be. Once I think they truly understand it (and aren’t just reciting it by rote), I’ll let them have an account on a social media site that has broad TOS. Until then, they need to stick to sites that don’t use this sort of language in their TOS because there are sites that do a lot to protect their younger users, proceeding with the knowledge that kids don’t always make the best decisions.****
So why do I believe that sites put this language into their contracts even if utilizing it is a long shot? My guess is that because all of these sites are businesses who need to turn a profit in order to keep the people who run it employeed. Just as brick-and-mortar businesses have assets such as tangible property, YOU and your content are the assets of FTGP. Social media websites need more avenues for collecting revenue beyond advertising, and I actually support being used in a bunch of ways. Facebook gives me an online space to socialize for free, so I don’t mind if they include me as a number in an information roundup that they sell to big business. I consider it my payment for using the site. But while I don’t mind non-identifying information to be used to help soda companies market their products to me, I do mind my images being possibly sub-licensed. So I don’t upload them.
See, simple solution.
You may have read this post and still come to the same conclusion that you are perfectly comfortable posting your images on these sites, and I fully support that. We all have different comfort zones, and I know that I am on the far end of the spectrum. I always liken it to emergency room doctors who won’t allow their child to skateboard. We both know the skateboarding casualty statistics but where I feel comfortable accepting the risk, that doctor does not because he has seen the damage firsthand. And perhaps as a social media editor, I have seen the damage firsthand from people who have had their image sub-licensed and were upset with the results and while the risk is the same for you and for me, I make a different decision based on my experience.
And just as that emergency room doctor deeply respects my parenting choices to allow skateboarding, I deeply respect your decision to upload your image or your child’s image online. It really needs to be a case of to each their own, with everyone being mindful of their own comfort zone.
The point of this post is not to make you scared, but to make you knowledgeable. To turn you into a TOS ninja and make you social media savvy. Now go kick ass.
And actually, show of hands: how many people learned something new from this post and what was it? I ask this because I may do a mind-dump of all sorts of other things like this that I use to make my decisions if this is enlightening as opposed to annoying.
* Of course, they have no rights if you don’t use their site. But once you use their site, you are agreeing to their conditions. Let’s put it this way, nothing in this world is free even if sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or Pinterest look like it on the surface. They need to make money, and that money needs to come from something more than just advertisers. Remember, you — the user — and your content become an asset.
** Anything you put out there can be taken and utilized in a way you don’t like. But this is about giving permission to use any image you upload. When you agree to the terms of service and build your account (or keep your account open after the TOS changes), you give these rights to the site.
*** I recently had two experiences with photo releases. The first place allowed me to remove that clause from their contract so I signed it. The second place wouldn’t allow me to remove that clause so I didn’t sign it because I had to question why that clause was important enough to them that they would rather lose my business than change it.
**** I was really pleased, for instance, to see that Pottermore does not allow kids to choose their user name therefore ensuring that kids don’t use their real, full name online. Then again, they lost points from me when they told kids to enter their birthdate.
Photo Credit: Slosada via Flickr.