Armchair Lawyers Surprisingly Proven Wrong?

Mat Honan, writing for Wired:

I think there’s a reasonable middle position. I believe Instagram should be able to make money. Facebook telegraphed that something like this was coming just last week, and my reaction at the time was “good.” I was happy that Instagram had a revenue model. It isn’t a charity. And companies that don’t make money are doomed to fail. Facebook paid a lot of damn money to buy Instagram, and it’s natural to want some return on that.
Yet I also believe it’s wrong to take people’s photos – out of context – for use in advertisements. With no way to opt out.

Yesterday afternoon, as our collective hyperventilation over Instagram reached its peak, a number of articles were published with what can be described, at best, as unfortunate timing. Mat Honan, for instance, sought to take advantage of the situation and lead an ethical stand against Instagram in a post entitled, 'Why I Quit Instagram.'

Perhaps if Wired had published the article a little earlier, the concluding statement — cited above — would've impacted with slightly more seriousness. Instead, Honan's article arrived just as the Internet's resident legal policeman, Nilay Patel, had unravelled much of the hyperbole surrounding Instagram's Terms of Use language.

Heaping further soil onto the fire, Kevin Systrom then wrote a formal response to the public outcry over its boilerplate legal language on the Instagram Blog.

Now, Honan obviously wasn't the only person to fully buy into this now-defunct crisis, but his article certainly demonstrates a point: people on the Internet need to understand that the nature of digital business is maturing. The Internet in its glory days was, contrary to popular belief, uncontrolled anarchy. Creating a successful business was not so much an art as it was simply throwing together a webpage and hoping people found it.

Today, in order to succeed — and to continue to succeed — there are inevitably going to be increasingly limiting and onerous implications upon privacy, amongst innumerable other factors. Such is the nature of legal diction when covering a variety of non-threatening matters in an ever-evolving sphere of innovation.

Rather than rushing to call your signature "bullshit" judgment (Oh, look at how controversial you are!) or incite a premature ethical response to something you fundamentally do not understand, perhaps it'd be best for all of us to collectively wait until someone with some pertinent experience might explain the situation.

Over this past week, amidst a slow news cycle, Twitter has become much more of an echo chamber than normal. Whether it's discussions of gun control, privacy policies, or mental health, virtually everyone seems to have come out of the woodwork with ill-informed and woefully self-righteous perspectives. Such is the nature of a highly-curated list of people you're willing to engage with.

Unlike the exponentially more serious issues of gun control and mental health, however, Instagram has proven to be a point of resounding embarrassment for an enormous portion of armchair professionals. Having spent the better part of 24 hours fetching pitchforks and flammable liquids, suddenly rationality and reason returned to the scene leaving countless commentators pale-faced and clamoring for excuses.

As of writing, the "Update" above Honan's post states in full:

Update: Instagram said they’re “listening”, stating that “The language we proposed also raised question about whether your photos can be part of an advertisement.” That question was raised because the terms of service language said very explicitly that photos could be used as part of anadvertisement. I appreciate the update, and Instagram’s willingness to communicate — and I’m listening. But the company still hasn’t really said anything. Without a clear commitment on its end, I’m not making a clear commitment either: In short, I still want options.

Although I appreciate that there is, indeed, further to go in the matter, Honan's update rings false to me. Simply put, Honan was swept up in the hype of a situation he didn't fully comprehend. Of course, he wasn't alone, but I think it serves as a glimmering endorsement of shutting up, getting out of the way, and reserving judgment until you have all the facts in hand.

The slow Holiday news cycle has been a repeated lesson in the pitfalls of hastened journalism and opinion-making. But, more than anything else, we've again witnessed just how fearful people can be of things they do not fully understand. Although I don't expect that to be rectified, it'd be nice if we might all begin to hold these writers accountable for inciting such outrage over matters they themselves do not grasp.