Simply uploading your photos to a social network doesn’t guarantee their safety.
Now that the majority of photos we take are in a digital format, it’s easy to get the sense that as long as they exist on a social network somewhere, we can assume they will be there forever. Physically printing photos has become a niche interest, and few people consider the fact that though their photos may be stored digitally, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll be there permanently.
While a digital format may seem safer than a physical one—they can’t, after all, burn in a fire or get damaged in a flood—that is a risky assumption to make. This is particularly true if you’re relying on a third party platform such as Instagram and Facebook to back up your photos for you. There are myriad issues associated with this method, including rights of ownership, the quality of the photos, and the long term assurance that you will have access to these photos a few years down the line.
First let’s address rights of ownership. While a network like Instagram insists that it does not own the ultimate rights to the photos you post (with the exception of the fairly broad license every user grants the network), it does reserve the right to remove them if they violate the community guidelines. This means that if you’re using Instagram as a long-term storage option, you could lose access to your photos unexpectedly if the network decides down the line that they no longer meet community guidelines. This may not seem like a significant risk, but users sometimes find that their post violates community guidelines unintentionally, and aren’t entirely sure how or why.
The second big concern is around retaining the quality of the photos themselves. In order to ensure that photos load quickly and don’t hinder user experience, Instagram and Facebook automatically compress the photos you post in your feed. This means that even if you upload a hi-res version of a photo, that is not the version that gets stored on the platform. While this may not matter when you are viewing the photo in a mobile format or a desktop experience designed for optimum viewing within the social network itself, the quality can quickly diminish when you view the photo on another platform or zoom in for detail. As one writer for Mashable reminded readers, “You might say: “Jeez dude, is it really worth stressing over something you really only notice when you zoom in?” I’d say don’t stress — life is short! — but definitely think about it. We don’t know what kind of awesome screens we’ll be working with in a few years, and tiny differences in photo quality could stand out. “
The third issue is the lack of certainty that a social network will be around long enough to act as long-term storage. As we have seen time and time again with other social networks, just because a platform is popular one year doesn’t mean it won’t be usurped by another sometime in the future. Expecting to be able to access your photos a decade down the line on a network that’s popular today is a risky move.
So, if social media storage is not a safe option, what is? It’s totally understandable to want to clear your phone or computer of photo files, as they can take up a lot of space. It’s also still probably true that digital is probably a safer long-term storage mechanism than analogue, but the trick is to store your files in more than one place. Options like Dropbox, Google Drive, and iCloud offer Freemium models that suit your storage needs and give you the peace of mind that your photos will live on long after the current social network du jour.
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