The HumancentiPad could do everything except read, and I couldn’t help but sympathize with it. The intangibility of online user agreements causes people to be less concerned with the terms they are signing to. I believe that the virtual reality of the Internet is what separates users from these agreements. The speed at which the Internet runs also makes the few minutes it takes to read the terms seem like an eternity, especially when the accept button is so textually dominant over the terms.
Designed to be the ultimate personalization of the Internet, Facebook follows what William Patry describes as a pull business. Facebook is a pull business because, “rather than seeking to constrain the range of resources available to participants, pull models constantly strive to expand it while helping participants, pull models give even people on the periphery tools and resources (including connections to other people) needed to take initiative and to address opportunities creatively as they arise” (Patry 7). The aim of Facebook, as with most social networking sites, is to connect individuals on it to one another. Wanting to be part of a greater group fueled by constant communication is what draws people to the site. Facebook’s business model appears innovative by adapting to each individual consumer’s interests and having multiple means of communication available (wall post, chat, pictures, ect.). Clicking the terms of agreement when signing up for Facebook is simply the price to pay to ensure you are not left out of the community the site creates. People would much rather buy into Facebook and be a part of its personalized society than be critical of the various agreements they are signing themselves to by joining.
In contrast to the more individualized practices of “pull” marketing, “push” marketing establishes a baseline strategy to get general consumers (as opposed to specified marketing to individuals) to buy into their product. Patry argues that, “due to their push mentality, the copyright industries view the entirety of copyright as unidirectional: the public is a passive participant, whose role is to simply pay copyright owners, or to stop using copyrighted works“ (Patry 8).
Even as a pull model, the language of Facebook’s “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” is extraordinarily convoluted. The level of personalization that Facebook creates is a product of the rights they earn for their consumers’ identities through the agreement, so it is no wonder the language used is flexible. Perhaps the best clause in their terms of agreement is, “we can change this Statement if we provide you notice (by posting the change on the Facebook Site Governance Page) and an opportunity to comment. To get notice of any future changes to this Statement, visit our Facebook Site Governance Page and “like” the Page” (Sec.14, Pt. 1). If you are only notified of agreement changes if you like and get notifications from a particular page within the site, Facebook’s terms are subject to change without the direct notice of their general users (ie. those who do not read the fine print regularly). The language used in this part of Facebook’s terms of agreement are analogous to Patry’s understanding of a pull model, as the terms are subject to change as the site changes. Patry is pretty adamant in claiming that the copyright industry should be transformed into a pull business. I am tempted to say that I would rather the law be rigid and commonly understood with respect to copyright than be ever changing and only relevant on a case by case basis, as through a pull system. If the rules of copyright are ever changing to fit the individuals involved, like in the case of Facebook, is it necessarily better for the individual?
The power of Facebook’s agreement policy, like in the case of copyright law in general, comes from the uncertainty it creates. Even if a Facebook user reads the terms they are inevitably going to agree to, the language the terms are formed on does not aid the consumer in having any idea what they are signing to. Perhaps the reason we are so trained to not read user agreements is because we are used to the language being so extraordinarily indecisive. Because we are preconditioned to think the terms will be vague and unhelpful to us, we don’t bother with them unless we absolutely have to, and even then we may just skim.
Patry, William. Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.
“Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.” Facebook, 8 June 2012. Web. 08 Sept. 2012. <http://www.facebook.com/legal/terms>