Prediction: Facebook Brouhaha Will Have Zero Effect on TOS Language

But We Do Wish It Were Otherwise

By Published on .

Alan Siegel sent out a press release claiming that the recent "uproar among Facebook users [over terms-of-service changes] will lead to a transformation of turgid, impenetrable online contracts into readable documents." Further, "the days of consumers blindly signing whatever is placed before them are over."

And I've got a house-broken adult male chimp I'd like to sell you. He's great with kids.

To be honest, I'm 100% on board with Siegel's aims. The chairman of brand consultancy Siegel & Gale is also the founder of the Plain English and Simplification movement and coauthor of "Writing Contracts in Plain English." There should be awards given out to folks like Siegel who fight against the complete corporatization of the English language. We should incentivize such people!

Siegel's absolutely right. Legal contracts are larded with language that is so beyond comprehension that consumers don't even bother to read them. Know what else is larded with puffed-up "language" that is usually both useless and grammatically incorrect? The advertising and branding industries. Ideas for sequels to "Writing Contracts in Plain English": "Writing a Memo in Plain English"; "Writing a New-Business Proposal in Plain English"; "Writing a Copy Deck in Plain English"; "Writing Your 25-Page Rebranding Proposal in Plain English."

Ideate about that for a moment while I concept the rest of this post.

But at the end of the day, the overwhelming majority of Americans (as well as a substantial portion of the Facebook universe) not only didn't care about this TOS brouhaha, they never even heard of it. In a social-media landscape dominated by PR-savvy and tune-in activists, it's easy to slap a company like Facebook around and get it to change its foolish ways. But that doesn't mean the rest of the country noticed or cared. (It's sort of like the privacy issue that privacy groups keep trying to get the average American to pay attention to before it's too late.)

The Twitterati and Facebook Elite do have the power to push back on TOS terms. But the reason this one blew up so fast was because it dealt specifically with their terrain (and because Facebook is so dependent on these core users). To get wide-scale social change they'd have to bring that sort of outrage to every single contract in every single industry. To do that, they'd have to notice every instance of abuse and get enough of their ilk to care. But that's not going to happen.

Indeed, I'd bet that the internet has been one of the primary culprits in a new age of garbage contracts. Transparency-schmansparency. One of the reasons Facebook used such an overly legalistic TOS contract was because most Americans don't even bother to read those contracts anymore -- precisely because they come across so many of them on the interweb machines. How many have you clicked this month without worrying about what they really said?

But between the uncaring millions of Americans out there and armies of contract lawyers, I'd bet the Facebook outcry has no effect on language.

And it's a bet I'd be glad to lose.

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