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Instagram and Changing the Rules

+ Kari Kohn

Leaders who make sudden changes to the rules may encounter a backlash from their communities. The problem arises when a community’s dominant social norms do not align with the change the leadership wishes to pursue. It’s a challenge that all leaders face, whether they’re leading countries, cities, or companies. Vanity Fair’s recent article on the history of Instagram offers a nice example. Instagram’s CEO, Kevin Systrom, draws an analogy between corporate and national governance (emphasis mine).

But another, larger, and more serious setback came less than a month later, when Instagram introduced new terms of service, prepared by a Facebook lawyer, which quietly allowed the company to access users’ photos for advertising purposes—without seeking permission or notifying them. Headlines such as instagram can now sell your photos for ads underscored the outrage of users—not to mention its celebrity following—who threatened to abandon the photo app over the change. (Instagram’s user numbers actually grew during this period.) Systrom quickly backtracked by removing the offending clause, but the damage was done—especially given Facebook’s reputation for intruding on the privacy of its users.…Systrom says he treated the controversy as a learning experience, telling his team to consider Instagram a small country and to imagine how people would feel if someone had suddenly changed all the road signs to a different color.
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