Who Owns Social Media?

I first heard the term “social media” in JMC 301: Intermediate Newswriting.  I was considering a story on text messaging and my teacher said I should point it in a  “social media” direction.  I had no idea what she was talking about.   This term has now inundated my life.  I think I understand how many organizations are feeling about this phenomenon: like  I’ve been training in the kiddie pool and now I’m supposed to swim laps across the Atlantic.  Despite my fears (being eaten by a shark, drowning, etc.) I plunged into the great saltiness.  I am now the proud owner of accounts on Twitter (feel free to follow me – MeganGj), Delicious, Word Press (so what if they were required for class), MySpace and Facebook.

Ah, Facebook.

As of February 4, 2009, Facebook owns all content posted on, transmitted through or pretty much distantly related to its server EVEN AFTER AN ACCOUNT HAS BEEN DELETED, and it can use your content for any purpose including advertising.

Facebook’s updated Tems of Service have caused a stir on Twitter with many tweets expressing frustration and plans to end accounts.  Several of the tweets complained about Facebook owning everything they posted without acknowledging that users freely choose what to post.  (Granted it is probably easier to vent in 140 characters than to weigh both sides of an issue.) None of the tweets I read mentioned the fact that Facebook always did own what you post.  The only difference now is that its ownership does not expire when you cancel your account, as Jacob Botter of  The Consumerist explains.

I had a minor internal struggle about this issue.  Here’s a summary of my thought process:

  • That’s messed up.
  • I can’t really explain why that’s messed up, it just is.
  • I’m finished with social media…except what’s required for JMC 417.
  • I guess I’m really frustrated that Facebook always owned my content and I didn’t know about it.
  • I guess I always knew that I had to be careful about what I posted because the Internet is forever.  Once something’s out there it’s out there for good.
  • If it weren’t for other forms of social media I wouldn’t know about this issue.
  • I guess social media is not completely evil…I guess.

It looks like I’ll be keeping my Facebook, at least for now.   I will definitely be reviewing my privacy settings though and reading those Terms of Service agreements more carefully on other social media sites.  I certainly understand why so many organizations are wary about jumping into this ocean.

What do you think?  Should we head back to the kiddie pool or keep paddling away?

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11 Responses to Who Owns Social Media?

  1. viancavv says:

    This social media frenzy is amazing to me. It’s funny how often we may question our devout participation to these sites…but eventually just decide to stick with the times/technology and get our hands dirty anyway. People are naturally interested in people. These sites keep you connected. It’s outrageous that we dont “own” our own conversations on Facebook, but it definitely hasn’t stopped anyone. Even if more people became aware of this fact, I somehow doubt the popularity/participation would drop. Sometimes I wonder how vain we’ve all become with our intense desire to want to share our pictures, personal info, and conversations for the world to see…well…maybe not the world…but a whole lot of people.

  2. ledleson says:

    Very interesting post. I was unaware that facebook now owns all content even after an account has been deleted. I agree with you that it’s messed up. It’s scary to think that some content of mine could be released down the road for advertising. Overall, I thought you brought up some points of where social media is heading.

  3. Mickey Siegel says:

    As soon as I heard of Facebook changing their TOS, I was actually surprised that people were surprised. People need to realize that everything you post on the internet has the possibility of being owned by someone else somewhere in time. I’ve seen first hand companies using photos of random people found through Facebook or Google’s image search in newsletters, brochures and news releases to represent company’s clients. Police are using Facebook to make arrests and many colleges across the country have taken away scholarships who have posted pictures of underage drinking and recreational drug use. The wording of what is said in the TOS is what scares people the most. They feel it takes away the power of releasing only certain information they are comfortable with making public. Social media users have to understand that everything you do, everything you say and everything that represents you on the internet is not your property anymore. It is now the property of everyone with a stable internet connection.

  4. mjcavaleri says:

    I think you need to re-read those terms of use on Facebook more carefully. You scared me into reading them and here is what I found. (URL:http://www.facebook.com/terms.php?ref=pf)

    (Under Ownership; Proprietary Rights)

    “Except for User Content and Applications/Connect Sites, all materials, content and trademarks on the Facebook Service are the property of Facebook and/or its licensors and are protected by all relevant IP laws and other proprietary rights (including copyright, trademark, trade dress and patent laws) and any other applicable laws.”

    Translation: Facebook owns everything except user content and application content.

    So what exactly is user content? I’m glad you asked – it is also found on the terms of use.

    (Under User Content)

    “‘User Content’ means any photos, text, link, audio, video, designs, ads and anything else that you Post on or through the Facebook Service. ‘Post’ means to upload, post, transmit, share, store, link to or otherwise make available on or through the Facebook Service.”

    Translation: Pretty much anything you are able to upload or post via Facebook does not belong to them.

    I guess most of what you have been reading has been posted by uninformed users, or simply people who are unable to understand the legal jargon in the terms of use.

    I have no idea what content of yours, if any, they would own which is not entailed in this definition of “user content”. Perhaps someone can enlighten me.

  5. mjcavaleri says:

    Ok, I lied. A little bit. They have the ability to license your content (forever), but do not technically own it.

    A nice flaw in this is that it is subject to your own personal privacy settings, so adjust accordingly.

  6. kparma says:

    I used to have Facebook and then deleted it because I went on way too much. I recently set it up again and was pretty disturbed when I heard about the new Terms of Service. However, I am one of those peole who when signing up for a new account, never reads the TOS and just hits the I Accept button. After hearing about the new TOS, I definitely will be reading the TOS for things I sign up for. I don’t plan on jumping off the Facebook bandwagon, but I am going to be much more careful about what I post on there. However, I do think it’s a little shady that Facebook changed their TOS without any chance for users to “get out” beforehand.

  7. mgjersvi says:


    I agree that vanity is a factor. I wonder who we’re doing all this posting for, our friends, ourselves? Do all my “friends” really want to see my ballroom pictures or do I just like the idea that they look at them. I look at pictures I’m tagged in a lot more often than others.

  8. mgjersvi says:


    Thanks. I’ve always been one of those people who just clicks I AGREE without reading anything. I’ll try to be better now.

  9. mgjersvi says:


    I agree with you. We shouldn’t be surprised. We all knew that once something is out there online it’s permanent. (I hope we all knew that.) “Delete” isn’t all that thorough.

    However, it has come to my attention that you can avoid this issue by adjusting your privacy settings.

  10. mgjersvi says:


    Thank you for pointing out the legal jargon. I’m not sure what the technical difference is between ownership and the right to license. In his responses to the issue Mark Z. said that the changes are just to protect Facebook legally. It will be interesting to see how this change plays out.

  11. mgjersvi says:


    I’m right there with you. I need to be more careful about skipping past the TOS pages, too. Again, I should point out that this change is subject to your privacy settings so go check them and make sure you’re covered!

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