Facebook’s double secret democracy thingy

’Tis the season…to vote? Facebook recently sent out an email to all of its users informing them that it would be holding a vote on proposed changes to its Data Use Policy and Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. You have until Dec. 10 to vote on the changes, which also includes voting on whether or not you will be able to continue voting on changes. Did you know that since 2009 you’ve been able to influence Facebook’s policies? If 7,000 comments are left on a post detailing proposed changes to its policies, a vote is automatically triggered. Thirty percent of users have to vote to make the changes binding. Awkwardly, only 0.038 percent of Facebook users actually voted in the second vote, which was held this year. And now, some miniscule percentage of Facebook users are going to vote for our ability to vote. We complain a lot about Facebook’s policies while still lapping up the Facebook Kool Aid. In the end, it doesn’t really matter what we think about Facebook’s policies—we don’t even take advantage of the system in place.

At least in my experience, we Americans tend to believe that “more democratic” equals “more better.” “Democratic” means inclusive; it means responsive to the will of the people. But voting does no good when the process is unpublicized. As an article in Slate magazine explaining the proposed changes points out, Facebook has enough users to count as the third-most-populous country in the world. Unfortunately, this “experiment in democracy,” as Slate characterizes it, doesn’t seem to have any substantial impact except to make Facebook look more democratic and responsive to its users. But even that goal probably hasn’t been accomplished because everyone still moans about Facebook’s lack of openness.

Facebook’s stated reasons for wishing to get rid of the system make some sense: Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s vice president for communications, public policy and marketing, wrote, “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.” Here’s another thing: Facebook no longer has to pretend to be responsible to its users.

Facebook’s privacy policies are notoriously complex and, well, infuriating. You might have seen those Facebook privacy notices that a lot of people were posting as statuses, citing impressive-sounding legal statutes in order to protect their “copyright” to comments, photos and other information. As Snopes, for one, pointed out, those things are about as effective against copyright infringement as smearing your laptop with unicorn blood (but less cool). If you’re one of those who jumped on the bandwagon, you were clearly misinformed. However, even if you were asserting legal rights based on little more than hot air, your conscientiousness is admirable.

To be honest, these voting rights were something I hadn’t considered until one of my Facebook friends asked all of her Facebook friends for comments about the actual substance of the proposed changes to Facebook’s policies. It was a meta moment, to say the least. At any rate, I’ve decided that I’m not going to vote. And I love voting on everything from whether to re-elect Barack Obama to which performer should come to campus for WUStock. I even voted in the Student Union elections this semester. Let’s be intellectually honest: very few of us are going to read about the proposed changes, let alone vote on them. In order to veto the new policies, 300 million votes are needed, which means they’re probably going to pass. If there are going to be substantive changes to Facebook’s privacy policies that truly benefit Facebook users, they will probably have to be legally binding.

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