YOUTH & THE LAW | Social Media Terms of Use: I agree? - LawNow Magazine

YOUTH & THE LAW | Social Media Terms of Use: I agree?

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We’ve all done it. Scrolled quickly through legal terms and clicked “I Agree” without reading a word. If you’re like me, you think, well how bad can these terms and conditions be? Everyone is using this app. But what exactly are you agreeing to?

In this column, we’ll look at the terms of use for Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. (We’ll refer to these sites as ‘platforms’.)

The Documents

Each platform has its own terms and conditions and other policies:

  • Facebook’s Terms of Service (last updated July 31, 2019) apply to your use of Facebook and Messenger.
  • Facebook’s Data Policy (last updated April 19, 2018) applies to your use of Facebook, Messenger and Instagram.
  • Instagram’s Terms of Use (last updated April 19, 2018) apply to your use of Instagram.
  • Snapchat’s Terms of Service (last updated October 30, 2019 and apply to users outside the United States) and Privacy Policy (last updated December 18, 2019) apply to your use of Snapchat, Bitmoji and Spectacles.

There are other terms and policies that may apply to you if you are using other features or add-ons, or running a business. Check each platform’s website for more information.

The Terms

By using the services provided, you and the company have entered into a contract. But this contract is not one where you can negotiate the terms with the other party. Facebook will not change some of their terms just for you. If you don’t like the terms and conditions, then don’t use the platform!

User Restrictions

You must be at least 13 years of age to use Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat. Convicted sex offenders cannot use the platforms. You can only create one account on Facebook for your personal use.

Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat have data policies to let you know what information they collect and how they use it.Ownership of Content

You own the intellectual rights in your content. For example, if you post a photo that you took, you automatically own the copyright in that photo. Owning the copyright means others cannot use your photo without your permission. However, by using Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram, you give them permission to use your photo. Technically speaking, you grant them a license to host, use, copy, change, publish and distribute your copyrighted materials. All three platforms state that the purpose of this license is to provide and improve their services and products.

Activities Not Allowed

You cannot use the platforms for corrupt purposes, such as:

  • Violating or infringing on someone else’s rights (including copyright and privacy rights)
  • Bullying, harassing or intimidating someone
  • Doing illegal things or posting illegal things on the site (such as pornography, graphic violence, threats, hate speech)
  • Interfering with the platform’s software
  • Accessing someone else’s account without their permission.

Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat can delete any of your content that violates their terms and conditions. These companies can also share your information with police or lawyers as requested.

You own the intellectual rights in your content. Each platform has also created its own community guidelines or standards that outline other unacceptable behaviors, such as:

  • No nudity or sexually explicit content.
  • No hate speech, degrading or shaming content, blackmail or harassment, and repeated unwanted messages.
  • No violence or encouraging violence, including threats or against anyone based on race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, disabilities or diseases.
  • No glorification of self-harm.

Resolving Disputes

If you have a dispute with Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat, try contacting them first to resolve the issue. If that doesn’t work, then each platform’s terms say how the dispute will be resolved. For example, if you have a dispute with Facebook, you can start a lawsuit where you live. If you have a dispute with Snapchat, the law of England and Wales applies and a judge in England will hear the dispute. That could be an expensive lawsuit!

Exclusion of Liability

Each platform’s terms try to limit the company’s liability to you for any losses (money or otherwise) you suffer from using their services. For example, if Instagram deletes your content, information or account, you probably won’t be successful if you try to sue them for losing all your photos.


All three platforms are free to use. But there’s a catch.

By using the services provided, you and the company have entered into a contract.Ever wonder why you see so many ads that are eerily similar to things you buy or like? That’s because Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat make money from selling ads to businesses and other organizations that want to promote their products. Advertisers tell the company which audience they want to see the ads. And the company shows the ads to users who fit that description, based on users’ activities and interests.

Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat have data policies to let you know what information they collect and how they use it. The platforms may collect the following information:

  • information and content you provide on the platform
  • your activity (including people, accounts, hashtags, groups, use, etc.)
  • information about transactions made on the platform (such as Facebook donations)
  • things others do and information they provide about you (such as others sharing or commenting on photos of you)
  • information about the device you use to access the platform
  • information from third party providers who have a right to provide the platform with your information.

The companies use this info to show you ads, report back to advertisers and make their services better. They also collect this info to promote safety and security on the platforms.

Facebook shares this information as non-identifying information. This means that whoever receives the information would not be able to identify you. You can change your privacy settings in Facebook to control what information Facebook and Instagram can access. To do so, go to your “Settings” and then click on “Ads”.

All three platforms are free to use. But there’s a catch.Snapchat may share public information about you, such as your name, username, Snapcode and profile pictures. To change how your data is collected and used for advertising, follow Snapchat’s step-by-step instructions.

Other Privacy Concerns

In addition to what information the platforms share about you to advertisers, you should also think about:

  • How are other users sharing your information? Are your friends sharing your photos or other information about you? What are your friends’ privacy settings?
  • What other companies are you interacting with on the platforms? For example, if you buy a game through Facebook, that game company may not be connected to Facebook and may have its own privacy policy.

The takeaway? If you don’t agree with these terms, delete your accounts!


Jessica Steingard
Jessica Steingard
Jessica Steingard, BCom, JD, is a staff lawyer at the Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta.

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