There are more than 1.23 billion monthly active users on Facebook. Instagram has more than 500 million monthly active users, and Twitter has 313 million monthly active users. 

Social media platforms enable businesses, companies and brand owners to reach out to their target audience and interact with their followers in an efficient and more personal way. Such interaction is not limited to being able to send and receive messages but also in being able to share content including photographs, videos and sound files. Sharing content on social media platforms reaches more people, more efficiently than traditional advertising channels such as television, radio and print.

For social media users, being able to share content and being able to access other users’ content easily has obvious advantages. Aside from the entertainment value, it also spurs creativity and collaboration. Despite these advantages, there are risks that people should be aware of. For example, photographs shared by photographers become vulnerable to copyright infringement. Also, inside jokes or comments shared to private networks can easily become viral causing embarrassment to the user. Lastly, much has been discussed about the ease to which social media platforms propagate and intensify bullying conduct.

This article unpacks how Facebook, Instagram and Twitter manage and regulate content uploaded by their users.

Facebook

If you are one of Facebook’s 1.3 billion users, you would have agreed to its terms which include giving Facebook license to use your content in any way it sees fit. As a licensee to your intellectual property, Facebook can transfer or sub-license its rights to others at any time for any purpose. You will find that these terms are fairly standard to all social media platforms.

Furthermore, as a user, you have agreed to not make Facebook responsible for anything that happens to the content you posted and shared. When you share or publish content on Facebook without controlling your privacy settings, your content will be made public. According to Facebook, this means that you allow every other user on Facebook, whether or not they are in your network, to access and use your content and to associate the content with you. 

You can, of course, attempt to prevent this from happening by controlling your privacy settings, which limits the number of people who can view your content based on your private network. However, you should exercise caution here – Facebook, in one of its privacy documents, states that if anybody in your private network shares your content to the public, the post becomes public, even without your knowledge and express permission.

Instagram

There are no surprises when it comes to how similar Instagram’s terms are to Facebook’s given that the latter bought Instagram in 2012. Similar to Facebook, Instagram states that the users remain the owners of the content that they share. Users, however also agree to give Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferrable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use photos and videos shared on the platform.

Since Instagram is mainly used to share photos and videos (a more recent feature), it has some very specific provisions on copyright. If you use Instagram, you have agreed to be solely responsible for the content you post. This includes ensuring that you either own the copyright or have the required permission from the copyright holder for the photograph you post.

Unlike Facebook, however, a user cannot download photos and videos posted on Instagram as easily as when the same content is posted on Facebook. Also, sharing another user’s content as your own is more difficult because Instagram does not have the same “share” for Facebook or “retweet” for Twitter functionality. Nevertheless, there are ways to circumvent this, usually involving the use of third party applications.

Twitter

Content posted on Twitter remains the intellectual property of the user but similar to the other social media platforms discussed above, Twitter’s terms provides that as a user you give Twitter “a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense)” to your content. Regardless of how standard these terms are, it should be noted that these terms give social media platforms very broad rights over users’ content. This includes the right to use, modify and transmit for any purpose.

When you tweet (the term for posting something on Twitter), if your account is public, everyone can view your tweet. You may, however, limit who can see your tweets by adjusting your privacy settings. Similar to Facebook, your private tweets can become public if another user retweets (shares) your content. Unlike Instagram, when you retweet somebody’s Twitter content, it will automatically associate the content and give credit to the original Twitter user. You can, however, prevent others from retweeting your Twitter posts – a function Facebook and Instagram do not have.

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There are advantages to using social media, however, it’s important to understand the risks involved in posting and sharing content. If you have any questions about protecting your content and privacy online, get in touch with our IP lawyers on 1300 544 755.

Raya Barcelon

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