Quit Instagram, They Said. They’re Selling Your Photos, They Said.

The real world: Quit, verb, to leave (a place), usually permanently.

The internet: Quit, verb, to threaten to leave as loudly as possible, usually over something stupid, then do nothing.

Some days I feel like the blogosphere is full of paranoid attention whores. Other days, I’m sure of it. Today is one of those days.

Seriously — what the fuck happened this morning?

What started last night as a few people wondering about some (maybe) questionable wording in Instagram’s terms of service turned into full-on rage tweeting this morning. Every other tweet in my stream was someone suggesting that they were quitting the service. The clear implication was that Facebook had succeeded in whispering poison words into Instagram’s ear.

“How dare they do this?!” “Do what?” “THIS!” “AHHHHHHH!!!”

I did what any rational person would do: I started making fun of those people. But it didn’t stop. It got louder and louder and louder. Soon celebrities were boycotting, people were threatening to go back to Flickr — Flickr! And then, naturally, came story after story after story after story — each more ridiculous than the last.

The only problem? No one actually stopped to think about all of this for a second. Worse, it seems no one bothered to actually read the terms of service changes and compare them to the old version. That only occurred this afternoon when Nilay Patel of The Verge actually did the legwork. As a lawyer, he’s perhaps uniquely positioned to do that. But really, anyone could have, you know, just talked to Instagram or Facebook to clarify. I’m sure some tried to and maybe they weren’t commenting just yet. But then maybe, just maybe, wait to publish those ridiculous stories?

Nah. What fun would that be?

Well, now we have Instagram’s actual statement on the matter, and it’s pretty straightforward: “To be clear: it is not our intention to sell your photos,” wrote co-founder Kevin Systrom. He goes on to note that: “The language we proposed also raised question about whether your photos can be part of an advertisement. We do not have plans for anything like this and because of that we’re going to remove the language that raised the question.” Not quite as straightforward — and I’m sure we’ll have 15 more blog posts on the matter — but clearly well-intentioned.

That’s the thing: why was the default thought here to assume that Instagram was out to do something nefarious? Because Facebook now owns the company? Why is it the default thinking that Facebook is out to do something nefarious?

Yes, these companies have business models predicated on serving up advertisements to you so that you can continue to use their services for free. Many others do this as well, most notably, Google. (As an aside, can you imagine the outrage if Gmail were to do something like roll out advertising based on the content of your email?! Wait a minute…) You can argue about whether this is a more or less altruistic model than selling goods and services, but the fact of the matter is that it exists because it works and people deal with it.

The problem with jumping to the conclusion that these companies are out to get you is twofold: 1) You sound like a delusional, paranoid jackass. 2) This would be the single-worst business model ever.

I’ve used the line somewhere before, but these companies are not SPECTRE out to do evil in an attempt to destroy the world. And yet, it seems that quite often people really believe that.

As a result, today, some people quit Instagram. Not a lot, mind you, because rather than actually take a stand, most people are cowards or fools who don’t actually intend to stand behind their words and care far more about hearing themselves yell to get retweets or pageviews. A few months ago, everyone quit Twitter for similar reasons. Except for the “everyone” part, of course. Months before that, it was Facebook. Actually, it seems to be constantly the case with Facebook. Except that every metric suggests the opposite actually happens each of those times.

My suggestion for the next time a situation like this happens — probably in a week or so: shut up, take a deep breath, and think. Use common sense. Just because a service is big and popular, it doesn’t mean they’re out to get you. In fact, it’s probably safe to assume that none of them are. Because if they were, they’d be done. No one is forcing anyone to use them. And torturing puppies isn’t a proven business model.

Sane people don’t quit services when they make terms of service changes. They quit them when they start to suck. Focus your energy on calling out the suckage.

Disclosure: I own shares of Facebook (both personally and through my role as a general partner with CrunchFund) specifically for when they perfect the business model of torturing puppies. See my other disclosures here.