Zuckerberg Lays Down Facebook’s Magna Carta

Users Need Only 52 Million Votes To Hold Him To It

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When a change to a website’s terms of service sparks such a revolt that it ends up on NBC Nightly News, then you know there’s a problem. In a conference call with reporters this afternoon, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced new “foundational policies” applied to users, developers, and advertisers that will give them more say in how things are done on Facebook.

When it became clear to users that Facebook’s new terms of service—the legality of changing a contract with millions without notice is another subject—would allow Facebook to lay exclusive claim to all content on the site forever, users protested with far greater force than when they realized Beacon was telling their friends what movies they rented.
Facebook Magna Carta
Why is that considered prime time national news, you ask? Well, with 175 million people, that’s like Brazil waking up to find their constitution’s been rewritten. Perhaps that’s why Zuckerberg differentiated between the “contract” of the past and his new initiative, which he says is more of a foundational policy document for Facebook “governance.”

Facebook will be posting a draft of Principles and Statement of Rights and Responsibilities for user review, commentary, and, ultimately, a vote. Voting opened yesterday, and if enough Facebookers like it (see bold print below), it becomes the law of the land by which they and Facebook are to abide. In terms of national documents, that makes it like England’s  Magna Carta, which in 1215 required King John to respect certain rights of the people and bound him and future kings to certain laws.

 “This is an unprecedented action. No other company has made such a bold move towards transparency and democratization,” said Simon Davies, Director, Privacy International, who also acknowledged the devil would be in the details.

Echoing lofty goals espoused by collegiate-born Google and its indexing the world’s information mantra, Zuckerberg said the purpose of Facebook was to make the world more open and transparent.

“As people share more information on services like Facebook, a new relationship is created between Internet companies and the people they serve," said Zuckerberg. “The past week reminded us that users feel a real sense of ownership over Facebook itself, not just the information they share."

“Companies like ours need to develop new models of governance. Rather than simply reissue a new Terms of Use, the changes we’re announcing today are designed to open up Facebook so that users can participate meaningfully in our policies and our future.”

The new Principles and Statement of Rights and Responsibilities will be on display for review and comment, and then will be voted upon by users. The documents shave the original 40 pages of legal jargon to just five. If passed by users, those wishing to participate will be notified of future changes, and the policy will go through a similar process via “virtual town halls.”

Facebook Town Hall

It’s not a complete democracy, however. Users will have no prior input on feature changes, and no vote may be taken at all if there is not enough interest in the issue to warrant one.

But here’s the real kicker and definition of "enough interest": the voting results will be made public and binding only if over 30 percent of all registered users vote. If Facebook reaches 200 million users this year as expected, that’s a shade under 70 million people—just slightly fewer than the number of people voting in the 1972 Presidential election, when the US had about 200 million citizens. As of today, 30 percent is about 52 million, give or take.

Nevertheless, "the idea that a major company like Facebook would give it’s users a vote in how the service is governed is remarkable," said Julius Harper, a Facebook user and a co-founding administrator of the People Against the new Terms of Service group on Facebook. "This decision should go far in restoring people’s trust, and I hope it sets a precedent for other online services to follow."

As for previous, infamous, and sudden usurpations of user content? Zuckerberg said the controversial terms of service were similar to other websites’ terms, but apologized and said Facebook never intended to give the impression it owned user data.



Zuckerberg Lays Down Facebook’s Magna Carta
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