5 In-House Lessons From the Instagram TOS Debacle

By Deanne Katz, Esq. on December 19, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

No one was jealous of Instagram's in-house counsel after the furor over their new terms of service (TOS), but at least we can all learn from their misery.

This isn't the first time Internet users have panicked over an update of a company's user agreement. Over the past year it's happened several times, and it's often the same or similar terms that upset users again and again.

To prevent an Instagram-style backlash from happening to your client, here are five important things to consider when your company chooses to update its terms of service:

  1. People actually do read the terms. Even if only a few users do it, those users will spread what they "know" about the legalese in a company's terms of service, and that can cause panic. When drafting your TOS, always keep in mind that lay people will read them and try to interpret what they mean. Keep it as simple as you can so they can understand, as a writer for TechCrunch implored.

  2. It helps to highlight changes. One of the things web commenters like The Verge have noted is that Instagram's new terms aren't so different from the previous ones. But most users didn't read the terms the first time, so everything seemed new to them. If you highlight what's different, it would help users understand what the changes are.

  3. Translate terms into plain English. Sometimes it's not possible to simplify the legalese into easy-to-read language. In that case you might want to translate it yourself like you would for a client or an uninformed litigant. If you don't do it, someone else might and they could get it wrong. Twitter's terms of service are a good example.

  4. Monitor social media after an update. Keep an eye out for user outrage after a TOS update so you know what you're up against. It's easy to track what people are saying on social media about your client, and then you can know how to respond.

  5. Use the official company blog as a communication tool. Digital communication, like a company blog, can help your client reach out to many users with one message. If you're keeping on top of the news, you'll know what is bothering people in cyberspace, and how to explain that their fears are unfounded.

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