Instagram has taken some shit over the last couple of days for it’s new terms and conditions.
You don’t fuck up, especially when you have the sort of money Instagram have, via their owners Facebook, when writing you’re T’s & C’s.
I hesitate to raise the Instagram topic on here. The controversial terms and conditions and subsequent ‘clarification’ have already received wall-to-wall coverage elsewhere.
But there’s a writing angle to the whole thing that needs some airing. The whole story is already being co-opted as a case study in the importance of clear communication and getting the tone right. This worries me, because that’s exactly what it isn’t, at least not in the way that’s being suggested.
This was the main offending paragraph in the terms and conditions:
To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you.
There is nothing wrong with the tone of this paragraph. It scores highly on clarity, using plain language, active verbs, personal pronouns (us and you) – all the things writers go on about every day.
There is a lot wrong with the content of the paragraph, at least according to thousands of Instagram users. But that’s not a language issue – it’s a policy issue. Any writers trying to use this as an example of the importance of ‘tone of voice’ are misinterpreting the problem. To an expert in tone of voice, every problem looks like a tone of voice issue.
The situation isn’t helped by Instagram’s disingenuous ‘clarification’, which tries to imply that this was all a miscommunication caused by ‘confusing’ language.
Again, this statement from Instagram has been hailed in various places as a good example of crisis communication – clear and helpful in the way the Ts and Cs weren’t.
But again, this is completely wrong. The Ts and Cs were absolutely clear, even if their content was controversial.
By contrast, the ‘clarification’ is slippery, mealy-mouthed and contradictory.
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