Will New Laws Change Social Media?

Danielle Beurteaux

Pop star Ed Sheeran recently announced that he was quitting social media. The Internet and his 16 million Twitter followers took note. As he posted on his Instagram account, “I find myself seeing the world through a screen and not my eyes.” So he’s decided to take a break and see the world (in person, one assumes).

Even as one of the world’s favorite musicians decided to temporarily walk away from social sharing, a major segment of his fan base nearly had their social media privileges removed by law. Under a recent law proposed in Europe, users of Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram in European Union member countries would need to be 16 years old or older; anyone younger would have required parental consent to use those sites.

Criticism of the change came quickly, and an amendment proposed to allow each country to decide its own minimum ages (between the ages of 13 and 16). The new rules were part of an attempt to codify and strengthen data and privacy laws in EU countries. But critics of the original proposed law said that it amounted to censorship, and would harm minors more than help them by limiting their freedom of expression and access to information.

Increasingly, social media companies are adapting their platforms to address users’ privacy concerns and needs. In response to criticism over the mandatory use of real names, Facebook recently decided to allow users to use pseudonyms for account profiles. While the company maintains that use of real names encourages accountability and responsibility, it now has a way for users to explain why they want to use a fake name. (The company also does reserve the right to ask for formal  identification.)

As we’ve seen in several cases recently, changes to a social app’s policies often elicit a backlash. Changes to Snapchat’s privacy and use policies last month prompted some negative reactions, particularly in response to perceptions of how the service could use private photos. Snapchat later clarified the meaning of the changes. Music streaming service Spotify recently underwent a similar trial-by-public and ended up reversing some of its changes.

What does all this tell us? One, that most users still aren’t reading privacy policies—they’re finding out about changes via social media. Second, that privacy is becoming more of a concern for users. It’s the live-by-the-sword, die-by-the-sword of social media.

Want more insight on effective use of social media? See 4 Biggest Risks In NOT Using Social Media.

Danielle Beurteaux

About Danielle Beurteaux

Danielle Beurteaux is a New York–based writer who covers business, technology, and philanthropy. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and on Popular Mechanics, CNN, and Institutional Investor's Alpha, among other outlets.