Should Facebook Be Able To “Dislike” Privacy Changes?
There’s an old truism in public relations: if you have bad news to announce, look for a good time when people are distracted to bury the story.
That may, or may not, have been the motivation for Facebook to propose a significant policy change in its governance on Wednesday this week – a day that many Americans were traveling or preparing for the Thanksgiving holiday and the rest of the world was nervously eying the Middle East.
Billed as an “Update to Governing Documents” on its corporate blog, the changes would in all likelihood seriously limit its users input into policy changes on issues such as privacy. Currently, major changes to Facebook rules or policies are put up to something like a vote: if 7,000 users comment registering their displeasure, the proposed change is put up to a vote for all Facebook users. Votes would then be considered legitimate if 30% of all Facebook users participate by voting – a hurdle that’s never been met.
In its Wednesday announcement, Facebook Vice President Elliot Schrage proposed modifying that so that votes would no longer automatically be triggered by the quantity of comments, but by what he calls their quality. Schrage writes:
“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 thequantity 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.”
Part of that more meaningful engagement would be live chats and an “Ask the Chief Privacy Officer” forum where users can submit questions for public discussion. But with approximately 1 billion subscribers, one might question the genuine usefulness of such forums. A roomful of 30 people can quickly degenerate into chaos given a controversial issue; a roundtable of a billion is simply inconceivable.
But given that Facebook votes haven’t met the 30% threshold in times past, one could argue that this proposal doesn’t change much in practice, but mostly in official rules. Either way, because this is a new and significant proposal, it’s still up to the old system of the automatic triggers.
Meaning any registered Facebook user can leave their comments here; if the comments exceed 7,000 Facebook will put this change up to a vote to all users. Meaning about 300 million people would have to vote yes or no for it to be valid.
Good luck with that.