Instagram and The Cult of Too Big To Fail

It’s barely Wednesday and everyone at the internet got their panties all a-tither, myself included.  If your fingers are on the pulse or near the pulse, you probably heard that Instagram released a vaguely worded user-agreement yesterday that may or may not have given them the explicit right to sell your photos to whomever without your permission.  The internet united in a way that it’s not known for and collectively shook its head and said no.


“Photographer” Stock Image. To be honest, I’m totally cool with selling every one of this photographer’s photos.

Amid the uproar, blogs wrote on both sides, some to the extreme and some like TheVerge that tried to naysay the conspiracy buffs based on what Facebook does with its image licensing and data mining.  All of this prompted Instagram to finally release a statement explaining:  JK. LOLOL!!!  Let’s not go apeshit, we are still the mustachioed hip kids with big glasses and not evil billionaires who want to become even billioner-aires!

There are three really important things to take away from this experience.  Probably more than three, but we’ll start there.

Advertising is changing rapidly, not always for the better, and we are all part of a big experiment.

One of the new agreements was IG’s right to make ads that don’t say they are ads.  (Slimy!) Another option for them was to possibly sell the usage of your photos, not the ownership, to advertisers who would then exploit them for their own ends.  They may have changed this at some point and the legality of this is dubious, but the general message is the same.  Traditional ways of thinking in advertising are less and less effective, the public is smarter than it used to be, and we are all guinea pigs until they figure out what works again.

Facebook still lets advertisers creep your photos and advertise with them, but I feel like collectively we know this and it makes us all feel a little queasy to see someone obviously plucked from their “Spring Break” folder trying to get you to click on an auto insurance ad.  It’s sloppy, ultimately, and shows a general contempt for the consumer, both on the part of the advertiser and Facebook for turning a blind eye.

Advertising can’t figure out what it is in relation to social media.  Corporations really want to be our friends and hang out on FB and IG, but they’re still the old guys at the club.  Until they work that out, we’re going to get more scenarios like this.

When an entity gets too big and doesn’t have to struggle, they stop caring.

This is the problem with billion dollar companies, American Apparel, and The Beatles.  When you’ve “made it” there’s no real impetus to keep trying to be relevant and awesome.  When you’re too big to fail, there’s no urgency or sense of caring about how you’re going to make rent next month.  Bank of America: High fees, lousy customer service, wanted to charge a monthly fee on debit cards.  American Apparel: Makes amazing clothes for 4 years, gets a following, and then tries to invent cool with fanny packs and onesies with heinous prints.  Instagram, now a part of Facebook and worth a billion dollars, decides that your photos are worth money…just not to you.

Point is, you get too popular or too rich and then you make bad decisions.  When you have to struggle to create a meaningful product, there’s a lot more on the line and it shows.  You don’t swing around a loosely worded legal document that makes you look like a complete asshole when you’re still struggling to be relevant.

Free is a lie.


When I download IG for my Android a window pops up telling me the permissions to which I am agreeing.  With IG, it wants to know where I am, who calls me and the frequency, and to alter/read phone storage.  Why would it need to do that?  To sell that info to advertisers.  Your app is “free” in the sense that you didn’t pay money for it, but you paid with your data.  Facebook works this way.  Words With Friends works this way.  But then it gets confusing.  When we post our photos or poems or recipes to whatever hosting platform, we, in essence, are all co-authors in a giant digital book.  We didn’t make the book, but we made the words/images that everyone enjoys reading.  We’ve all got emotional investments in the content and we feel like it’s ours.  So when the book maker says “We’ve changed our minds and we’re going to sell your words to another bookmaker (for our ultimate profit)…” it’s understandable that we all feel like we’ve gotten the shaft.

Many people argued that we don’t own Instagram and we should just make another service and go there.  Yes-fantastic point, but the psychology is always going to be the same.  As long as social media creates a place for us to put things that are dear to us, we will feel like part of it is ours.


Admittedly, I am kind of proud to be a witness to the debate and excited that in times of corporate weirdness, the internet can band together and get a little pissed off in between cat videos and Philosoraptor memes.  Even Anonymous took a time out from making the Westboro Baptist people miserable and tweeted in support of posters.  It’s not over, and this isn’t the last we’ll hear about it, but I’m interested to see it all unfold.

Are you staying?  Are you leaving?  Let me know below.


2 thoughts on “Instagram and The Cult of Too Big To Fail

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