An Old Instagram Hoax Fools a Bunch of Celebrities

Some internet hoaxes are like the seasons. They predictably come back around, no matter how many times they’ve already been debunked. That’s exactly what happened Tuesday, when a smattering of high-profile celebrities and public figures with a collective following in the tens of millions were duped by an old Instagram myth. People like Martha Stewart and US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry posted a typo-ridden meme that claims a new rule is about to go into effect on the platform, which would supposedly allow Instagram to use your photos “in court cases in litigation against you.”

To be clear, no such rule exists. But that didn’t discourage the meme’s many famous posters, including Taraji Henson, Rob Lowe, Debra Messing, Shane Smith, Usher, Rita Wilson, and others. Some of them have since deleted their bogus posts.

Louise Matsakis via Instagram

An Instagram spokesperson told Women’s Wear Daily Tuesday that “there’s no truth to this post.” When reached for comment, the social network had nothing additional to add.

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The notice starts out: “Don’t forget tomorrow starts the new Instagram rule where they can use your photos. Don’t forget Deadline today!!!” It goes on to make even less sense from there, grammatically and otherwise: “Everything you’ve ever posted becomes public from today Even messages that have been deleted or the photos not allowed.” Some versions of the hoax cited “Channel 13 News” as their source, without any further clarification. Almost all referred to official-sounding legal doctrines, like “UCC 1-308-11 308-103” and “the Rome Statute.” The former appears to be a reference to the Uniform Commercial Code, a broad set of US commercial laws, while the Rome Statute established the International Criminal Court, which handles crimes like genocide. Invoking neither will protect you from Instagram’s terms of use, which you agreed to when you opened your account.

Versions of the hoax first began spreading on Instagram and Facebook in 2012, when the two social networks made adjustments to their terms of service. At the time, people worried the changes would allow the companies to do anything they wanted with their users’ content; the memes were meant as a Hail Mary attempt to stop that from happening. Facebook, which had acquired Instagram earlier that year, released a statement clarifying that “anyone who uses Facebook owns and controls the content and information they post.” But the hoax still continued to spread, and has bubbled up and subsequently been debunked nearly every year since.

Trevor Noah, the host of The Daily Show, took the meme’s resurfacing as an opportunity to make a joke, posting a parody of the hoax to his own Instagram account. “Instagram you are a bad boy, don’t use my message for your badness ok! I don’t allow you for this,” it reads. “Now I stop you because this was also on channel 13 news!”

“Thank you?” Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, wrote in a comment.

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