Facebook Is No Longer a Democracy
Sorry, democracy fans. The world’s largest virtual nation, a billion citizens strong, just officially became an oligarchy.
You probably weren’t even aware of it, but until Wednesday, you had voting rights on Facebook. The site used to put major changes to its governing documents — that is, the rules for how it treats your information and your privacy — up for a vote.
The last time this happened, however, so few virtual citizens came out to vote that it made the U.S. midterm elections (with their average 40% voter turnout) look like a triumph of participation.
In June, the company proposed two alternative versions of its statement of rights and responsibilities, and let users vote on them for a whole week. A mere 342,632 cast their ballots.
That was roughly 1 in every 2,600 users — or 0.038% of Facebook’s population at the time.
So in the future, Facebook said Wednesday, it would let users comment on proposed changes to the governing documents, but not vote.
“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,” corporate VP Elliot Schrage wrote in a statement (italics his).
“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.”
Of course, the true power at Facebook lies where it has officially resided since the IPO: with its shareholders. And specifically with founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who controls a plurality of voting shares.
But giving users the option to vote, even if that option wasn’t much used, gave the site more of a fig leaf that suggested it was out to accomplish a “social mission,” as Zuckerberg’s IPO letter put it. The next time a major change is proposed to Facebook privacy settings that users don’t like, they will have one less outlet to complain about it.
As political pundit Joni Mitchell once put it: Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?
Photo credit: Mashable composite
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