When students sign up on social media sites, they agree to lengthy terms of service, often without reading through them. According to Susan Sarapin, an assistant professor of multimedia journalism and communication, about 95 percent of people do not read the terms of service before clicking “Agree.”
“There are mandatory arbitration clauses in the terms of service that most of us do not know about, which state that you cannot take the social media site to a court in case of a dispute,” Sarapin stated. “You must travel to a designated state and resolve the conflict behind closed doors in arbitration.
“There are also clauses that say that the terms of service can change at any time, and there is usually no limit as to how drastically they can be altered.”
According to alabar.com, an arbitration agreement requires that the persons who signed it resolve any disputes by binding arbitration, rather than in court before a judge and/or jury. The site also states that while defendants can present evidence such as witnesses’ statements or documents, the normal rules of evidence and other court procedures don’t typically apply.
“There was a professional photographer who posted a picture of a model in one of these sites which ended up in a pornographic website,” Sarapin said, warning of the dangers of these agreements. “The model ended up suing the photographer. We do not know how this concluded because it was settled in arbitration and the terms of settlement are not public.”
Sarapin also added that it is difficult to accurately assess the situations with these lawsuits because the conditions in which they are settled are not made public.
Bret Woods, an assistant professor of ethnomusicology, said these kinds of terms of service are crafted precisely to be difficult to understand.
According to Woods, the authorities crafting the terms of service do not make it concise even when they have ample resources to do so. He compares blind agreement of terms of service to walking inside a dark room.
“We would never walk into a dark room without knowing what’s inside, yet we agree to some lengthy, legally binding terms of conditions without comprehending the ramifications,” Woods said. “And the mandatory arbitration clause itself is very telling of how these sites do not want any disputes being dragged into a court of law where the settlement is public.”
Jennifer White, a sophomore fine arts and math major from Clarksville, Tennessee, commented on the impact of these agreements from an artist’s perspective.
“I did not read the terms of services when I signed up for Facebook because it was too long and complicated,” White said. “I don’t think it is fair that Facebook partly owns the art that I create and post on my page because they are getting free copyright of my creation, but at the same time I do not get to complain because I agreed to the terms.”