You'll Need a College Education to Read the Terms of Service for These Social Media Sites

All About Cookies evaluated the Terms of Service of 10 popular social media sites to find which are the hardest and easiest to read, which are the longest and shortest, and more.
Josh Koebert, Author
Catherine McNally, Editor
Last updated Jul 11, 2022

Social media is an unavoidable part of modern life, with data showing that over 58% of the world’s population — 4.6 billion people — currently use at least one social media platform. Between phones and computers, billions of people are spending hour after hour posting, scrolling, liking, and commenting on social media, with more people signing up for these platforms every day.

But how many people actually know what they are signing up for?

While the terms of service for social media sites and apps are available for review, how many people actually look at them before signing up? More importantly, how many could actually understand them if they did?

Terms of service for all sorts of things are notoriously difficult to read and understand. They’re full of page after page of legalese and jargon that is inaccessible to the average person. When it comes to social media, these statements are just as confusing.

To better understand social media terms of service, All About Cookies looked at 10 of the most popular social media platforms, evaluating how many words are in the terms of service for each platform as well as the reading level necessary to fully comprehend what each agreement means.

Key findings

  • Users need the reading comprehension level of at least a high school junior to understand the terms of service for all 10 major social media platforms we evaluated.
  • The terms of service of social media sites are 6,141 words long on average. That's enough to fill 13.5 single-spaced or 22 double-spaced pages.
  • Facebook has the most difficult terms of service to understand, requiring the reading comprehension level of a college graduate.
  • YouTube has the easiest terms of service to understand — you need "just" an 11th-grade reading comprehension level.
  • YouTube also has the shortest terms of service, at 3,866 words. The only other social media platform with terms of service of less than 5,000 words is Instagram, with 4,002.
  • The terms of service of one platform — Snapchat — is over 10,000 words long. That would take an average reader 40 full minutes to read.


In this article
How hard is it to understand the terms of service of social media sites?
The hardest sentences to understand from social media terms of service
Tips for protecting yourself on social media (and the rest of the internet)
Methodology

How hard is it to understand the terms of service of social media sites?

A graph titled "Tough and Incomprehensible: Reading level necessary for social media terms of service" that shows the reading level required for 10 different social media sites, including Facebook, TikTok, WhatsApp, and Reddit.

Social media platform Terms of service word count Reading level by grade
Facebook 5,007 16
TikTok 7,595 15
Twitter 6,053 15
Twitch 6,753 14
WhatsApp 5,237 14
Discord 5,150 13
Instagram 4,002 13
Reddit 7,251 12
Snapchat 10,497 12
YouTube 3,866 11
Average: 6,141 14

For this analysis, we found the publicly available terms of service agreements for each social media platform and pasted the full text of each agreement into the Hemingway Editor. This app scores the reading comprehension level needed to read and understand a piece of writing by assigning a grade level based on the vocabulary and sentence complexity of the text.

Facebook has the most difficult terms of service to read, requiring the reading comprehension of a college senior (grade 16). Despite featuring shorter-than-average terms of service, the language is dense and complicated enough to fit right in with texts assigned in 400-level college courses.

It's important to keep in mind that the average American reads at a level between seventh and eighth grade, according to the Center for Plain Language. That means the average U.S. social media user would have a very difficult time making sense of the terms of use for any of these sites.

Across the 10 platforms, we found that only three social media platforms — Snapchat, Reddit, and YouTube — have terms of service that can be understood by someone who does not read at a collegiate level.

Facebook before and after

For our primary analysis we used a future version of Facebook’s terms of service. These updated terms go into effect on July 26, 2022, but they are available for review already. This also allowed us to compare Facebook’s current agreement with the one that will become official at the end of the month.

Facebook terms of service version # of words Reading level (grade)
Current 4,118 15
Updated (effective 7/26/2022) 5,007 16

The new user agreement going into place at the end of July 2022 is around 900 words longer, and is harder to read and understand by a full grade level. When comparing the raw text of the two agreements side-by-side, we found that between text additions and subtractions, around 31% of the new agreement is different from the previous version, with just shy of 70% of the text remaining unchanged between the two.

Social media terms of service with the biggest and smallest word counts

YouTube has the shortest terms of service at “just” 3,854 words. The average reader would still need more than 15 minutes to read the entire document. Instagram is the only other site to use fewer than 5,000 words, coming in at 4,002 words.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the terms of service for Snapchat is over 10,000 words long.

The hardest sentences to understand from social media terms of service

Think you can understand the terms of these sites? Below are some of the most complicated and structurally complex passages we encountered, as identified by the Hemingway app.

From Facebook

96 of 180 sentences identified as “very hard to read”

“Our Products, however, are provided "as is," and we make no guarantees that they always will be safe, secure, or error-free, or that they will function without disruptions, delays, or imperfections. To the extent permitted by law, we also DISCLAIM ALL WARRANTIES, WHETHER EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING THE IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, TITLE, AND NON-INFRINGEMENT.”

From TikTok

133 of 295 sentences identified as “very hard to read”

“You irrevocably grant us perpetual and unlimited permission to reproduce, distribute, create derivative works of, modify, publicly perform (including on a through-to-the-audience basis), communicate to the public, make available, publicly display, and otherwise use and exploit the Feedback and derivatives thereof for any purpose and without restriction, free of charge and without attribution of any kind, including by making, using, selling, offering for sale, importing, and promoting commercial products and services that incorporate or embody Feedback, whether in whole or in part, and whether as provided or as modified.”

From Twitter

105 of 248 sentences identified as “very hard to read”

“By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods now known or later developed (for clarity, these rights include, for example, curating, transforming, and translating).”

From Reddit

134 of 373 sentences identified as “very hard to read”

“Except to the extent prohibited by law, you agree to defend, indemnify, and hold Reddit, its affiliates, and their respective, directors, officers, employees, affiliates, agents, contractors, third-party service providers, and licensors (the “Reddit Entities”) harmless from and against any claim or demand made by any third party, and any related liability, damage, loss, and expense (including costs and attorneys’ fees) due to, arising out of, or in connection with: (a) your use of the Services, (b) your violation of these Terms, (c) your violation of applicable laws or regulations, or (d) Your Content. We reserve the right to control the defense of any matter for which you are required to indemnify us, and you agree to cooperate with our defense of these claims.”

From YouTube

67 of 210 sentences identified as “very hard to read”

“The licenses granted by you continue for a commercially reasonable period of time after you remove or delete your Content from the Service. You understand and agree, however, that YouTube may retain, but not display, distribute, or perform, server copies of your videos that have been removed or deleted.”

Tips for protecting yourself on social media (and the rest of the internet)

The Pew Research Center found that over 70% of people in the United States currently use at least one social media site or platform. And over 50% of users of sites such as Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and YouTube visit those sites on a daily basis. With so many people regularly spending time on these platforms and sharing information that the sites monetize, it’s more important than ever for users to understand what they are agreeing to when they sign up for an account.

Unfortunately, even if you wanted to know how sites use your information, it's nearly impossible for most Americans to read and understand these documents without the help of a lawyer. Still, there are ways to help protect yourself and your data online, no matter what a site’s terms of service may be. Some top tips include:

  • Learn more about how cookies work. Cookies are an essential part of the internet today, so knowing more about how they work and the kinds of information they store can go a long way toward staying safe online. Having a solid understanding of privacy issues for computer cookies can help you make smarter decisions relating to digital information and privacy.
  • Get proactive about what you share with websites. A great way to feel safe and secure online is to take an active role in determining what pieces of information are and are not shared with different websites. Make sure you know how to change your privacy settings online and take control of the information available to different sites.
  • Protect yourself and your computer. The internet is teeming with all kinds of threats to your privacy and digital information, with new ones emerging all the time. Make sure to keep up with all of the top tips on how to protect your computer and stay safe online to better protect your valuable data and information.

Methodology

The official terms of service for each social media platform were copied and pasted into the Hemingway Editor App, which evaluated them for readability and length. Evaluations were performed July 5, 2022. Current and updated Facebook terms of service were evaluated using the Compare Text function of CountWordsFree.com.

Author Details
Josh Koebert
Josh Koebert is an experienced content marketer that loves exploring how tech overlaps with topics such as sports, food, pop culture, and more. His work has been featured on sites such as CNN, ESPN, Business Insider, and Lifehacker.