If you’ve been on Instagram at all over the past few days, you may have seen something curious popping up in your feed repeatedly: A screenshot claiming that a “new Instagram rule where they can use your photos” is about to be enacted, and that unless you post a status denying Instagram “permission” to use your images, your content can be used by the platform without your consent — and possibly even used against you. Quite a few high-profile users have been posting this screenshot, including Niall Horan, Taraji P. Henson, Tom Holland, and Pink, although many, among them Horan and Holland, have also since deleted their posts. So what is the “Instagram rule” in question here? Simple: It's nonexistent. Posting this message does absolutely nothing. It’s a hoax — and what’s more, it’s a hoax which has circulated numerous times since at least 2012.
Usually, this hoax is pegged to Facebook, rather than Instagram — and, indeed, the two (two!) separate times it circulated in 2012, it was spurred on by developments in the Facebook space: The first time, which occurred in June of that year, it was in reaction to Facebook becoming a publicly traded company; and the second, which happened in November, it was in response to changes Facebook made to its privacy guidelines. It’s since made the rounds numerous other times, including in 2015, 2016, and even earlier in 2019.
The exact content of the message changes a little bit each time, but it pretty much always consists of the following pieces: It claims that a rule change is happening on a given social media platform such that you lose control of the rights of what you post on that platform, either by claiming that the platform will henceforth own the rights to your content instead or by asserting that your content is now “public” and can be used against you in some way, shape, or form without your consent; it states that if you post a certain type of status to your profile saying you don’t give permission to the platform to use your content, then you retain control of the rights to that content; and it claims that if the platform uses your content after you post this status, it’s punishable by certain specific laws.
But every single word of this message is false — and it’s been debunked each and every time it’s circulated. I’ll send you here, here, and here for full breakdowns of several different debunked versions of this message, but — using the Facebook versions as an example — what it all boils down to is this: You own the intellectual property rights to anything you post on Facebook; you already granted Facebook the right to store, copy, share, etc. anything you post on the platform, as long as they do so in ways that are consistent with your privacy and application settings, when you agreed to Facebook’s terms and conditions; you can’t retroactively go back on what you already agreed on when you signed up for the service; and you certainly can’t do so by posting copypasta — and probably inaccurate copypasta, at that — to your profile.
(For the curious, you can read Facebook’s full legal terms here. Pay special attention to the “the permissions you give us” bullet point in section three.)
The message that’s making the rounds on Instagram right now is almost the exact same one that hit Facebook both earlier this year and in 2016. The Instagram version is almost a word-for-word copy; indeed, it’s really just a screenshot of one of these older messages with some clumsy image manipulation used to shove “Instagram” into each applicable slot over “Facebook.” This fact alone discredits the message: The “deadline” can’t really be “tomorrow” if it was already in either January or in 2016; what’s more, “Channel 13” (which isn’t identified by any actual news affiliate, making it mightily suspicious) probably wouldn’t have any good reason to re-run a segment now that previously aired between seven months and three years ago.
There’s also, y’know, the fact that the “Rome Statue” referenced in this version of the message applies very specifically to war crimes, crimes against humanity, crimes of aggression, and genocide — that is, invoking its name is the silliest part of the whole thing. As Staci Zaretsky, a senior editor of the “behind-the-scenes look at the world of law” website Above The Law who, among other things, holds a degree from the Western New England University School of Law, wrote when this version of the hoax came back in January, “By the way, the Rome Statute? Seriously? From where we’re sitting, the only crime against humanity here is that you’ve taken the time to post this gibberish on Facebook.”
(In previous iterations, the “Berner Convention” has been invoked instead of the Rome Statute — but there’s no such thing as the “Berner Convention.” The Berne convention exists, but the “Berner Convention” does not. Either way, the use of these terms is clearly an attempt to lend legitimacy to the message that it absolutely does not have.)
It’s not totally clear why the hoax is going viral again — or why it’s jumped over to Instagram this time — but it may have something to do with the new privacy tools that just arrived on Facebook. On Tuesday this week, Facebook launched an “off-Facebook activity” tool that allows you to see “what information about you has been sent by other businesses to Facebook,” as Bustle’s Caroline Burke put it. You can then choose to “disassociate the information” from your account, per CNN, although the information isn’t actually deleted from Facebook’s servers — it just won’t be associated with your identity.
Does the ability to “disassociate” this data with your identifying information have anything to do with the legal rights regarding your photos on Facebook or Instagram? Not really. Does the fact that said data will be “dissociated,” but not actually deleted having anything to do with the photo issue, either? Again, not really. But it’s not unusual for this exact hoax to rear its false little head whenever anything happens on a social media platform with regards to the privacy tools, settings, or policies of that platform — so, given that things are happening on these fronts in the Facebook world, and given that Facebook has owned Instagram since 2012, it’s pretty easy to see how, under the circumstance, the hoax might both revive and then leap from one platform to the other.
In any event, here’s your reminder that any messages claiming to grant you specific legal rights simply by copying, pasting, and posting a particular status on any of your social media profiles is just a chain letter — nothing more. Although, hey, I suppose at least this one isn’t threatening a sticky end for you at the hands of angry ghost if you don’t post it, right?