How could social media legalese be made more friendly?

The news that a lawyer has put together child-friendly terms and conditions for Instagram (on page 10 of this report) is welcome, even if they’re not official. According to Ofcom, half of the 12-15 year olds in the UK at least are unaware that their social network’s overlords can use their pictures at will for commercial gain. One of our adult contacts was caught like this by another social network, as we commented last week.

The idea is that companies should be encouraged to phrase their contracts in ways that children can discuss with their parents or guardians, teachers or other appropriate adults, to see whether they really think they’re reasonable. We tried applying our own rewriting skills – not, we should add, coming from a legal background – to see how some of the terms and conditions could look in future.

(Please note we are not suggesting companies shouldn’t be able to stipulate whatever terms and conditions they like – just that their clients should be empowered to understand them).

Facebook

A popular platform with teenagers is Facebook. In the first paragraph this has:

“By using or accessing the Facebook Services, you agree to this Statement, as updated from time to time in accordance with Section 13 below. Additionally, you will find resources at the end of this document that help you understand how Facebook works.”

This is pretty straightforward but we might suggest “Social media changes and so can our terms and conditions. Don’t forget to check back occasionally to see whether we’ve altered anything” in the middle rather than “as updated from time to time”.

More serious is this paragraph:

“For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: 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). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.”

Kids might better understand “You still own all your content but we can use it how we want without asking as long as you’re on Facebook. If you delete your account but someone else has shared your stuff and not deleted it, we can still use it.”

Another one that could be made more child-friendly is: “You will not post content or take any action on Facebook that infringes or violates someone else’s rights or otherwise violates the law.” Or more straightforwardly, “If something isn’t yours, don’t post it.”

Twitter

Twitter, although less popular with younger people, even has a friendlier layout for its terms of service. Some of it could be hammered home a little harder, for example: “You may use the Services only if you agree to form a binding contract with Twitter” – in other words, immediately you start using the service, Twitter’s rules apply.

Likewise, “through your use of the Services you consent to the collection and use (as set forth in the Privacy Policy) of this information, including the transfer of this information to the United States, Ireland, and/or other countries for storage, processing and use by Twitter and its affiliates” is reasonably clear but “We can send your personal details anywhere we want to process it” would be even clearer.

“You understand that by using the Services, you may be exposed to Content that might be offensive, harmful, inaccurate or otherwise inappropriate, or in some cases, postings that have been mislabeled or are otherwise deceptive” has been controversial in the light of a load of coverage of “fake news” and basically means “don’t blame us for anything you see or read”.

Speaking of content, there’s a repeat of the Facebook idea: “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).”

In other words the company can send your content anywhere, change it if it wants to, and not pay a thing. To be fair, this also covers storing a copy on its servers (essential if the system’s going to work) and resizing pictures and video for different devices so the networks have to reserve some rights.

Snapchat

It’s good to finish on a positive, and it seems that Snapchat has got it right. From the sentences “Although we have tried our best to strip the legalese from the Terms, there are places where these Terms may still read like a traditional contract. There’s a good reason for that: these Terms do indeed form a legally binding contract between you and Snap Inc. So please read them carefully” you know someone has at least thought about the non-expert on the receiving end of this stuff.