Do You Know What You Signed Up For?

Do you remember when you signed up as a Facebook or Instagram user? Admittedly, I have a vague memory of getting my Facebook account and no recollection at all of actually creating my Instagram or Twitter accounts. Even if you do remember your glorious entry into the realm of social media, you probably don’t remember reading the Terms of Service Agreement. I mean, did you read it? Honestly, I probably did not. Of course, as I began working in the world of social media and it became prudent for me to do so, I have since read them and, well, they are pretty straight forward. In both the Facebook and Instagram agreements, it clearly states that while the platform does not sell your data to advertisers, they do use your data for ads from these advertisers, who pay them to run said ads.

If you spend any time at all on social media, you get this. In fact, you may even appreciate how the ads you tend to receive actually are for things you might enjoy. Keep in mind, though, that the data being used by advertisers is not just from what you post on Facebook or Instagram, but from everywhere you are on the internet. Have you ever used a search engine to find something and then, BOOM, there it is on your Facebook feed? Yeah, that’s not magic, it’s data.

So why am I talking about this? In order for you to be a conscious consumer, and prosumer*, of social media, you need a basic understanding of what social media platforms are designed to do. While they will tell you that they are all about creating opportunities for friendships, community-building, and gathering around the campfire so to speak, that is really only part of their purpose. Yes, they want you to enjoy their platform, so your experience there is important, but not because they care about you as a person. They want you to enjoy being on the platform so that you will stay on it longer and, therefore, see more ads! Oh, and so the algorithm can gather more data.

Another reason I mention this is to dispel a couple of myths that I often see promulgated on Facebook particularly. I am sure you’ve seen them too. First, typically once or twice a year there will be a post shared that says something to the effect, “I do not give Facebook permission to use my data…” yadayadayada. Welp, guess what, you already did (see above paragraphs.) Sharing a post on your wall does not change the terms of service.

Another post that makes the rounds from time to time is the “Facebook will only show you 25 friends” one. The idea is that if a person wants to be one of the 25 friends that Facebook allows you to see they need to comment on your post. Now, think about what Facebook’s goals are: 1) to keep you on the platform as long as possible, and 2) generate revenue through advertisers running ads. Why would they LIMIT the number of profiles you see to a specific number? While there are parts of the algorithm that prioritize what you see, it is not based on a specific number. It is based on how you are interacting with what you see. In general, any time you see a post that says something like these two posts, and especially if the post says, “copy this post and paste it in your status,” just don’t.

Yes, social media can be a wonderful thing. It allows us to keep in touch, connect with people all over the world, promote our own businesses, and even learn new things. But remember what you signed up for. All of this connection is free, to you, but someone is paying. Businesses, entrepreneurs, and other advertisers are paying to use the data that Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms are collecting so they can target ads effectively. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be. (More on that in another post.) The more you know and understand social media and how it works, the better experience you can create for yourself and those who follow you.

*prosumer: a person who consumes and produces media.

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