Everyone Is Voting Against Facebook’s Policy Changes and It Doesn’t Matter in the Slightest

    December 4, 2012
    Josh Wolford

You probably know that Facebook just opened up its third-ever Site Governance Vote, allowing users to vote on proposed changes to the company’s SSR and Data Use policies. Or maybe you have no idea. Maybe you don’t care. That’s fine, but there are thousands of users that do know and do care – and their votes are as useless as Democratic votes in Mississippi.

Like previous Site Governance votes, Facebook is letting users weigh in on proposed changes to the site’s governing documents. The big difference this time is that Facebook is also letting users weigh in on whether or not this should be the last time they get to vote on these types of changes. Facebook wants to get rid of the roughly three-year-old system that allows users to trigger a vote on policy changes with a comment threshold, saying that the site has “outgrown” the system.

Have you participated in a Facebook Site Governance vote? Do you even care? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Apart from the voting mechanism, Facebook wants to change their policy on sharing data with affiliates, as well as Facebook Messages and data visibility on users’ Timelines (for more on those policy changes, check here). As expected, the early vote looks to swing hard toward “nay” on these changes. But with Facebook’s current Site Governance voting structure, users simply have no real chance in affecting the company’s policy.

That’s where Facebook and its users can agree: the voting system is flawed and the site has most definitely outgrown it. From Facebook’s point of view, the 7,000 comment threshold designed to trigger a vote lends itself to manipulation by over-zealous privacy advocates. And they’re right – it’s happened before. The last Site Governance vote back in June was triggered in large part by the efforts by a privacy group called Europe v. Facebook, who flooded the policy proposals with comments to force the vote.

That vote saw a whopping .038% participation rate from Facebook users. Because of the low turnout, Facebook was able to push the proposed policy changes through even though a majority of users voted against them.

And that’s the other reason why the current voting system is broken. Once a vote is triggered, users have about a week to cast their vote. Facebook then requires that 30% of the active user base vote in order for the results of said vote to be binding. If fewer than 30% vote, the results are merely “advisory.” Read: Facebook can ignore them altogether.

Since Facebook has over 1 billion MAUs, that means that over 300,000,000 users would have to vote in order for Facebook to be held to the will of the user base. Last vote saw 342,632 participants. I’m sure you see the problem here.

That’s why it’s incredibly unlikely that the current Site Governance vote, no matter how it turns out, will be a binding mandate from the people. There’s just not enough interest in the process. As it stands, Facebook’s voting system is too easy to manipulate and so demanding as to render it worthless.

In June, when the vote received such a low participation rate, Facebook defended their 30% threshold, saying,

“We made significant efforts to make voting easy and accessible – including translating the documents and voting application into several of the world’s most popular languages and providing extensive notice through users’ news feeds and desktop and mobile advertisements. There has also been widespread media attention and coverage of our notice and comment and voting process.”

At the time, Facebook said that they would “review the process to determine how to maximize our ability to promote user engagement and participation in our site governance process in the future.” And as we now know, that review led to the conclusion that the whole thing be scrapped in favor of a more involved user feedback program for proposed policy changes.

That brings us the the current vote, in progress. After nearly a day of voting, users are overwhelmingly against the new policies. Here’s what the vote looks like right now:

Although 58,000 votes in less than 24 hours seems like a lot of interest, you have to realize just how small of a chunk of the entire user base it really is. Considering Facebook has 1 billion active users, the current tally represents .0058% of all users. That has to somehow make its way to 30% by December 10th. I think it’s safe to say that it’s highly unlikely, if not impossible.

So, Facebook’s new privacy changes and the abolition of the voting process will go through as planned. While the current voting system is obviously worthless, I don’t think that a voting system is worthless. One that made it harder to trigger a vote, but easier to make that vote binding sounds like a pretty good option – at least to try. In reality, generating enough interest in something like a Site Governance vote would always be a difficult venture. But eliminating the vote entirely is sure to piss people off.

The only problem is that it’s not going to piss off nearly enough people for it to matter.

What do you think? Should Facebook get rid of the voting mechanism for proposed policy changes? What kind of system do you think would work best? How could the company prevent manipulation but allow users to have their voice heard? Let us know in the comments.