Instagram hoax resurfaces and tricks celebrities: What you need to know

Don’t believe everything you read online. (Do we really have to repeat this?)

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Queenie Wong was a senior writer for CNET News, focusing on social media companies including Facebook's parent company Meta, Twitter and TikTok. Before joining CNET, she worked for The Mercury News in San Jose and the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon. A native of Southern California, she took her first journalism class in middle school.
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Andrew Morse is a veteran reporter and editor. Before joining CNET, he worked at The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and Bloomberg, among other publications.
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4 min read

An old Instagram hoax keeps coming back.

Angela Lang/CNET

It's the social media hoax that won't die. Since the beginning of the week, celebrities, politicians and everyday folks have fallen for a ruse about supposed changes coming to Instagram's privacy policies. The practical joke declares IG is implementing a "rule where they can use your photos." Though the head of the Facebook-owned service has debunked the hoax post, people keep falling for it. The hoax is fueled by a claim that you can prevent Instagram from using your photos if you publish a statement revoking your permission for it to do so. No wonder it's gone viral.  

Among the high-profile names duped: Julia Roberts, Julianne Moore and Taraji P. Henson. Oh, and Rick Perry, the man in charge of America's nuclear arsenal. (To his credit, Perry demonstrated a sense of humor about his naiveté, tweeting a list of items he'd give Instagram the right to use. It included "pictures of dachshunds" and "Backstage selfies with Vanilla Ice."

Here's what you need to know about this Instagram hoax, which is sure to snag a few more unsuspecting victims before it burns itself out.

What is the hoax?

The hoax is a viral post that claims Instagram is changing its policy on user-uploaded photos, essentially giving the service the right to use them. Everything you post becomes public, including any messages you deleted from the service, the post states. The text-heavy and grammar-challenged post goes in and out of all caps and boldface, urging people to copy a message reading: "I do not give Instagram or any entities associated with Instagram permission to use my pictures, information, messages or posts, both past and future. With this statement, I give notice to Instagram it is strictly forbidden to disclose, copy, distribute or take any other action against me based on this profile and/or its contents."

It also references the Uniform Commercial Code and the Rome Statute, a 1998 agreement that led to the creation of the International Criminal Court.


Actress Taraji Henson was one of the celebrities duped by the Instagram hoax. 

Screenshot from Instagram by Queenie Wong/CNET

How did Instagram respond?

The Facebook-owned photo sharing service quickly dismissed the hoax. Adam Mosseri, who runs Instagram, tweeted a denial of the purported rule change on Tuesday night, saying, "If you're seeing a meme claiming Instagram is changing its rules tomorrow, it's not true."

Lead Stories, a fact-checking site that partners with Facebook, also refuted the claim. An Instagram spokeswoman said the post doesn't violate its rules, which is why the company hasn't been pulling down this misinformation. Since fact-checkers flagged the post as false, Instagram is limiting its reach and isn't recommending it on their hashtags or explore tab, which shows users posts from people they don't follow based on their interests. Instagram declined to say how many users shared the hoax. 

Haven't I seen variations of this before?

This hoax dates back at least seven years, but keeps coming back every couple of years. In 2012, Instagram and Facebook users were posting a similar privacy notice on their social media feeds, according to fact-checking site Snopes. Like the hoax shared this week, these posts stated that Instagram was implementing a new rule that would allow the company to "use your photo" and that "everything you've ever posted becomes public from tomorrow." Facebook debunked the hoax and said that anyone who uses the social network "owns and controls the content and information they post." In 2014 and 2015, the same hoax resurfaced yet again. There are also other variations of this hoax. One that dates back to at least 2009, for example, says that users can pay Facebook a subscription fee to keep their posts private. 

Did all those celebs really fall for this prank?

Oh, yes. And what a thing of beauty it was to watch. 

The list of the duped, chronicled by journalist Taylor Lorenz, included (but was by no means limited to) Judd Apatow, Debra Messing, Waka Flocka Flame and Usher. Many of the Instagram posts have been deleted, but users and journalists captured and shared screenshots. 

Rob Lowe -- the host of the game show Mental Samurai, an "obstacle course for the mind" -- reposted the hoax only to get called out by his son, who replied to his dad with a face-palm emoji. 

Perry, who serves as the US Secretary of Energy, was subjected to a Twitter chorus chastising him for falling for the hoax. 

So can Instagram use the photos I upload?

An Instagram spokeswoman said that users on the social network own their own photos and videos, and control how that content is shared. The social network's terms of service, though, states that when you sign up for an account you grant Instagram a license to use your content. "You can end this license anytime by deleting your content or account," the company's policy states. "However, content will continue to appear if you shared it with others and they have not deleted it."