The de-democratisation of Facebook

Facebook users have until December 10th to vote on proposed changes to the way Facebook is governed.  If the new proposals are accepted Facebook users will lose the...

Facebook users have until December 10th to vote on proposed changes to the way Facebook is governed.  If the new proposals are accepted Facebook users will lose the right to vote on future changes.

The current system was introduced back in 2009, when Facebook had a manageable 200 million users. Under this system, a vote would be triggered whenever a proposal from Facebook received over 7000 comments. If this happened, users were given a week to vote on the proposal and the vote would be binding if turnout was over 30%.

After reaching 20,000 comments yesterday, a vote on the future of Facebook has been initiated and users will now decide what part they will play in the future of the network. So far, around 90% of voters have opposed the changes (see graph below) but it is very unlikely that this will have any impact. As previously stated, 30% of users must vote for it to be binding. Given that Facebook has over 1 billion monthly users, over 300 million votes are needed! With that in mind, you have to question the merits of the existing system.

Facebook argue that it is out of date and the 7k threshold for comments encourages quantity rather than valuable quality feedback. Furthermore, I’m yet to meet anyone that actually knew they had the right to vote until a few weeks ago. Despite this, many are upset by the prospect of the ‘de-democratisation’ of Facebook.

The current system offers users only the delusion of control. Perhaps they appreciate the opportunity to express their opinion even if votes are unlikely to be binding, but the new proposal also offers ways of doing just this. Firstly, the seven day comment period on proposed changes will continue. Facebook will also launch an “Ask the Chief Privacy Officer” feature and will hold regular live-streamed webcasts where users can ask questions.

I can see how the right to vote could be useful in the event of a takeover that seriously threatened the future of the social network and the way it used data, but even then 30% would be an incredibly difficult number to reach. Because of this, TechCrunch’s Josh Constine suggests a compromise whereby “voting remains an emergency option, but is only triggered when necessary.”

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UPDATE:

The final results are in. There were 589,141 (88%) votes opposing the changes and 79,731 (12%) in favour. The total turnout was 668,872, some way short of the 300m+ votes required for it to be binding.

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