Article written here on Medium: Link Copy and past this address if link doesn't work: "medium.com/@brentcherry/the-abuse-of-the-terms-of-use-50cb497a6f6b"
Social interaction between others is a fundamental part of being human. In the current digital age, your innovations have given us the ability to interact instantly, with ease, and to the point where they’ve become our primary means to connect with people around the world. Networking, friendships, business, charities, education, artistic expression, entertainment, news, you name it. The possibilities are practically endless. We’re forever grateful, and always will be, for giving us the tools to accomplish what was, until now, beyond anyone’s imagination or the realms of practical possibility.
And in many ways, you’ve managed to accomplish all this without requiring a single penny from us. All you ask in return is for us to obey the rules that are in place for using your products, which is what’s commonly referred to as a “Terms of Service” agreement. This is both appreciated and necessary, as it allows people to use what you’ve made, all while ensuring that everyone uses it properly, and without interfering with the safety or well-being of anyone else that chooses to do as well.
All that being said, there’s a growing problem that involves both how and why these rules and regulations are being enforced. This ranges from minor things like voicing unpopular opinions, offensive jokes, and insults, to far more serious behaviour, such as threats, defamation, and inciting crime. Some of these things get people suspended and banned after one incident, while others will not only get away with it, but continue to violate the rules you’ve set in place.
To be fair, no system is or ever will be perfect, regardless of how thoroughly planned out it may be. Rules, as well as those who enforce them, can only do so much. We’re only human, and we’re all bound to make mistakes from time to time. Any higher expectation is neither realistic, nor reasonable.
However, constantly failing to maintain the policies that you’ve set doesn’t give us the service that you initially said you would provide, nor what we agreed to, which takes the interaction and consent of two parties to make it work. Not just one.
Furthermore, rules exist for a reason. In fact, you’ve set up the agreement to them as a preliminary requirement, which means that by your own standard, everyone who chooses to use your service is bound by them. Any exception or failure to uphold that standard not only undermines their entire purpose, but it tells everyone else that you don’t take your “Terms of Service” very seriously, which leads people to question and doubt your overall integrity, as well as the values that were outlined in the first place.
We get it. You’re a privately-owned company. You have the right to run it the way you want, as well as to serve and associate with those you see fit, so long as you do so within the boundaries of the legal system that’s enforced where you conduct your business. Nobody can, will, or should be able to take that freedom away from you.
But just remember, you operate in the public space of an open, social market economy. That means there will always be room for competition, making every failure and mistake on your part one more opportunity for someone else to pick up whenever you drop the ball, and another reason for people to seek out a better alternative elsewhere.
We could go on and debate about what’s right or wrong until we’re blue in the face. The point is this:
A person’s time, money, or attention is not a right that you’re entitled to. It’s a privilege that you have to EARN by establishing a relationship that works BOTH WAYS.
It doesn’t matter if you’re the biggest company in the world, or a start-up company looking to make their mark. If you want to be taken seriously, then we expect to be taken seriously. Poorly-worded and ambiguous policies, all while having inconsistent, wishy-washy regulations that discriminate certain users while giving others a free pass is not what we agreed to.
We didn’t sign up to use your service because we were forced to do so. We did it because you convinced us that you were worth the effort. Taking advantage of that to ignore the equal treatment you based your service on and arbitrarily decide which rules apply to whom is not something that we (or anyone else, for that matter) should have to put up with.
In fact, there’s a word to describe this kind of behaviour. It’s called abuse.
Relationships are made up of many components. Compromise, compatibility, understanding, forgiveness, respect, and patience are just to name a few. But above all, the most important aspect of any relationship, by far, is trust. It’s what keeps us optimistic, sets expectations, maintains our interest, gives us the ability to predict what’s to come, and allows us the freedom to make our own choices in life.
The connection between a company and customer is no different. We trusted you to help us improve the ways of making our lives more meaningful by offering us something both special and unique. Don’t take that for granted. Because once that trust is broken, it’s very hard to fix. Even if you manage to do so, chances are we’ve already moved on to something better. You don’t have to do business with anyone you don’t want to, and neither do we.
We’re not telling you how to run your business. How you do so is entirely up to you. We’re just letting you know that we’re fed up with you abusing your authority and the sloppy, inconsistent enforcement of your rules that make all of us, including and especially those we support and care about, miserable. It’s an opportunity to fix the rocky relationship you have with your current and potential supporters, before it’s too late.
It may not happen today, tomorrow, or even a few months from now. But someday, your repeated let-downs will be your undoing, as people will only tolerate so much mistreatment and abuse before they quit. Ironic, seeing as your platforms are all about social interactions between people.
Our patience is wearing out. Stop letting us down.