Facebook Wants You to Vote on Whether You Should Be Allowed to Vote

Published on December 3, 2012
by Mike Isaac

As expected, Facebook called for its users to vote on a series of proposed site governance changes on Monday afternoon.

In short, it’s asking you to vote … on whether you want to vote.

Example: Every time Facebook proposes any major changes to its privacy policies, the company’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities (or terms of service agreement) requires that those changes be put to a vote. So Facebook will float changes out to the masses, and it takes 30 percent of the user base to weigh in and have a say in the matter. Otherwise, Facebook’s changes become law.

Problem is, 30 percent of Facebook’s user base is 300 million people, or just under the entire population of the United States. Mobilizing that many people throughout the world to vote at all is pretty much a fool’s errand at this point — especially considering we have a hard enough time with voter turnout in real world elections for people like, oh, the President of the United States. I doubt a little-publicized Facebook vote will make it anywhere near the required amount.

But this dilemma basically makes Facebook’s point for needing site governance changes in the first place. While direct democracy may have worked for Facebook when it was a smaller company, the site is home to upward of a billion people online across the world. That sort of governance model just doesn’t scale.

What’s getting users all a-tizzy is the proposed new model. In essence, it’s Facebook saying, “Trust us. We got this.”

If the vote doesn’t pass 30 percent over the one-week voting period (which it won’t), from now on Facebook can institute changes in its site policies when it wants to, without requiring the consent of the governed (as it were).

That sounds a tad Big Brother-ish, so a bit of backlash was to be expected. And Facebook’s remedy to this doesn’t seem ample enough to act as a substitute. The company will trot out Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan every so often to take questions and suggestions from users at large, as well as host a series of Webcasts to keep everyone informed on the latest site privacy issues.

Again, that doesn’t seem like a scalable solution. Trading votes for an influx of suggestions seems like plugging the Colorado with a champagne cork. Hopefully the company has more ideas in the pipeline.

The vote begins now and ends a week from today (on December 10) at noon Pacific.

So go vote if you want your voice to be heard. Or don’t. Whatever.

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