Facebook Ends the Illusion of Democracy
Yesterday Facebook abolished the policy that allows for user veto power on Facebook policy changes. It might sound important, but it really isn’t. Perhaps I should explain how this happened for those who were busy dealing with real world issues. The night before Thanksgiving, Facebook announced that it wanted to end a process that’s been around since 2009 allowing users to vote on changes to the way the site is governed.
Previously, if more than 7,000 users commented on a proposed change, then Facebook would hold a user vote on the change. If more than 30% of its active users voted (more than 300 million people, at last count), then Facebook would bind itself to the majority rule. (By way of comparison, approximately 120 million Americans voted in the presidential election of 2012.) If there is insufficient turnout, Facebook makes the final call.
Over the past week, Facebook proceeded with the vote regarding the abolishment of the user vote. Total user votes amounted to 668,125 (obviously a little short of the necessary 300 million). Since we’re talking about a simple click vote, the fact that people click “like” over 2.7 billion times means that users were surely capable of maintaining their control.
While the web exploded with articles about “electoral apathy” highlighting lack of user participation, a more important question is at the core of this topic. How much control did users have to begin with?
Most of us recognize Facebook as a free service. The fact that it’s free makes people more open to take the good with the bad, and roll with new developments. Was the Timeline feature initially really annoying? Who cares? You’re not paying for it. Although it’s nice to have the option of input, it’s not necessary.
“In the past, your substantive feedback has led to changes to the proposals we made. However, we found that the voting mechanism, which is triggered by a specific number of comments, actually resulted in a system that incentivized the quantity of comments over their quality. Therefore, we’re proposing to end the voting component of the process in favor of a system that leads to more meaningful feedback and engagement,” wrote Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s Vice President for communications, public policy, and marketing.
Although there’s a growing belief that Facebook somehow has significantly more power it’s not really the case. Most people have accepted the fact that Facebook is ever changing. Getting rid of the voting system was simply a formal move to get rid of something that wasn’t working anyway. After all, the best example was their vote to end voting.