Instagram, like many social networks, is designed to get you to consume as much content as possible in a single sitting. Likewise, its new sister app Threads is built for aggressive consumption.But you know one part of Meta’s social infrastructure that is not designed to be easily read in a single sitting? Its terms of service, which were just updated at the beginning of the month.Didn’t notice? Understandable—the news got buried amid all the buzz about Threads. Fortunately, The Lazy Data Research (TLDR) Institute noticed—and has thought of some effective counter-programming.
The Swedish artistic collective, which aims to make complex data accessible to the average person, has presented this extremely long list of important policies on ownership, user access, and privacy notices as an audio-driven sleep aid, complete with a speaker with a calming voice whose consistent tone makes it a great choice for taking a nap. The initiative, called Legal Lullabies, comes in two forms: An Instagram version, titled Zzzuckerberg; and a TikTok version, titled Zzzhang. The Instagram version is 51 minutes long. The TikTok version is nearly 38 minutes long.The speaker was a friend of the group whose voice proved particularly well-suited to the task—so much so that he got at least one request for a voice work gig.“It’s very soothing indeed,” said Isak Landaboure Lengholm, one of the founders of the group. “After the initial excitement, we all got very sleepy when recording it.”(I won’t lie, I also nodded off when listening to it.)So which terms of service is worse? Per Lengholm, that would be Instagram’s. The TikTok ToS, dating to November 2022, seemed to go “above and beyond to be relatable following all their legal issues,” making it easier to follow than the newly updated Instagram ToS, which was updated to account for regulatory shifts in the European market.
“That being said, all of them balance the fine line of being almost understandable and completely incomprehensible at the same time,” he added. “Occasionally, it’s like you’re stuck in a fever dream.”The group’s approach to culture jamming—which Lengholm described as “picking important stuff represented with good data, and then adding a creative layer to make it more digestible”—is aimed at raising larger questions about important topics.In this case, the data point they’re drawing attention to the very low percentage of people—in some studies, 9 percent; in others just 1 percent—who read terms of service agreements of any kind. (The 1 percent study, released in 2020, amusingly utilized a test terms of service filled with increasingly absurd statements, most notably getting users to agree to give up their firstborn.)Given that these agreements can often be used to degrade your rights when using software or accessing services, it’s useful to understand why they exist in the first place. And given that they’re hard to understand for even college-educated people, presenting these confusing texts in a familiar context—audio-based sleep aids are popular ways to battle sleep disorders these days—could get people to interact with a complex issue.In some ways, TLDR’s approach is similar to other culture-jamming collectives, like MSCHF, but ultimately, the approach they’re aiming for has a noble goal—to encourage people to take science and data more seriously.“We’re at a point today where ‘doing your own research’ is perceived as trustworthy as actual peer-reviewed research, and as a result, only the strange, odd and bizarre stuff tends to stick in the public’s memory,” “So if there’s one thing we would love for people to take away from this, it’s to appreciate scientists and to stop saying ‘according to a study’ when they’ve only read the headline.”Lengholm described a future project where the group would attempt to make toys from the microplastics that exist in breast milk.“We’re just trying to make sense of the world around us while trying to make the public aware of important science that they shouldn’t overlook,” Lengholm said.