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Why You Should Care About Censorship, and Ownership, on Social Media

5/21/21

Content Creation, Content Marketing, Content Planning

Written by: JESS HAMMONS

Does your social media content belong to you?

If you said, “Yes, obviously. I created it!” We have some bad news for you. You may own it in terms of intellectual property, but you don’t have complete control over it. Those platforms you use to share content with your audience have rights, too. 

We’re not about to get into the specifics of copyright law because #yikes, but here’s a good way to think about it: You own your social media content, but every time you post something on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Pinterest, whatever, you give each platform a license to use your work in whatever way they see fit

They could exploit your content commercially, sell their license to a third party, and never pay you any portion of profit they make. Or, they can ban you from the platform if they don’t like your content, as we saw happen to former President Donald Trump in January 2021. And guess what? There’s no way around it.

“But Uncanny Content, what can I do? I need social media for my business. And it’s not like I’m going to use it to incite riots or be an asshole to other people. Does content ownership and censorship really matter?”

Yep, it does. Let’s talk about why you should care.

Take a lesson from Trump (Words we never thought we’d write)

In January 2021, shortly after the attacks on the U.S. Capitol, Twitter permanently suspended former Trump’s Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump. Twitter had this to say about their decision: 

“After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them — specifically how they are being received and interpreted on and off Twitter — we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence. 

Our public interest framework exists to enable the public to hear from elected officials and world leaders directly. It is built on a principle that the people have a right to hold power to account in the open.”

People celebrated the removal of Trump from Twitter because, at best — if there can be a “best” — Trump’s Tweets resembled those of a self-absorbed influencer or a petty middle schooler. At worst, they were racist, hateful, misinformed, and just plain infuriating. 

Many of us were tired of his Tweets getting attention, not to mention being absorbed and regurgitated by people who didn’t stop to think about what he, and they, were saying. But there were many voices crying for us to stop and think about what Trump’s Twitter ban meant in a larger sense.

When you give someone the power to censor speech you don’t like, you also give people the power to censor all forms of speech. What happens when the political tides turn? Who or what will be banned next? That sets a bad precedent for everyone.

Let’s not fall down too far into the rabbit hole that is free speech and censorship, but instead, bring this back to why it matters for your business. When you agree to use a social media platform, either personally or for your business, you give up some of the right to do whatever you want with it. You turn that power over to the platform.

You know how you reclaim that power and ownership over your content? By housing it in online spaces off of social media.

You need to own your content elsewhere

The best and safest way to avoid content ownership issues on social media is to avoid using social media in the first place. But that’s just not feasible for a lot of businesses. Social media helps a lot of brands connect with potential customers and routinely engage with their audience. 

What you can do, however, is make your self-hosted website and your email list your top priorities. These are places where you own your content, so you have full control over it. This is the first place your online content should live. Publish it there, and then repurpose it across other platforms. Also note: you don’t “own” the content on your website if it’s hosted by a third party. As we’ve seen with sites like Parler, your website can be shut down by the host if you violate their terms and conditions. Even if you’re not, say, propagating Q-Anon conspiracy theories, it does beg the question: Do you really own your content?

Blogs can also be murky territory. On free blog sites like WordPress or Blogger, your words are yours, but you don’t own those sites, either. Your free blog can be banned, taken down, deleted, or hacked. You may no longer agree with the terms and conditions of those sites when they change. 

So, treat free blog sites as social media platforms. Host your blog on your self-hosted website. We can’t say this enough: your content should live in online spaces you own, not “rent.”

Have backups (and a backup plan)

Jess here with a quick story. 

I used to be super into bookstagram, a niche community of book lovers on Instagram. One of my bookstagrammer friends with tens of thousands of followers realized that someone had set up a new account pretending to be her. They stole some of her posts, stole her avatar, and made a very similar-sounding username to poach her followers. 

To “fix” the issue, Instagram took down my friend’s account. You know, the original creator who was being impersonated. All of her posts and years of hard work were gone in an instant.

Understandably, she was upset and angry. While she did get her account restored eventually, it took weeks. She lost quite a few followers and even some brand sponsorships because she was banned and unable to do anything.

What’s the moral of this story? Yes, people are assholes who will steal your work. But you need to be proactive and protect your content. House it on your website and/or blog so that you don’t have to deal with platforms making big, messy, time-consuming mistakes.

Also, have a backup of your content. Don’t just rely on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to recapture what you lost. How often you backup will vary based on how often it changes, but our friends over at Bluchic recommend weekly backups as a good place to start. If you sell online products, you may even want to backup daily. 

Backup your content before any updates or major changes. Keep at least a month’s worth of backups stored offsite in case you need it. 

Protect your content

Your content is valuable, so treat it that way! We’re not saying that your content loses value when it’s posted on LinkedIn or Twitter, but you shouldn’t rely on those platforms alone to house and share your content. 

Social media platforms won’t care if your stuff gets deleted or your account gets reported wrongly and taken down. Don’t waste hours and hours creating some excellent videos and beautiful images for Instagram, only for another user to steal it and you to take the blame.

Put your content on your self-hosted website, blog, and emails. Backup your stuff regularly so that you don’t lose it. And then worry about what day and time to share your content on Facebook for maximum engagement potential.

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