The Facebook Site Governance Vote: why/how should I vote?

This is not a question asked by me personally, as I’ve already cast my ballot. I wanted to discuss some of the basic issues raised by this governance vote for the benefit of those yet to vote.

First of all, to get acquainted with the changes to the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities (SRR) document you are a party to and Facebook’s data usage policy which governs their use of your personal data, read this simplified, but accurate L.A. Times piece.

Below are some to-the-point observations on what’s at stake and my reflections on the Facebook voting process.

Are you being disenfranchised by the new policy?

I don’t think so. If the new SRR and policies go into effect, there will be no more referendum-style votes (there were two others prior to this one). These votes have always been “advisory” in that they did not “bind” the company to a specific course of action. The reason: the threshold for binding results is 30% of the total site membership, which is approximately 30 million persons. As of today when I voted, there were roughly 350,000 votes total, which means 29.65 million persons would have to vote in the next four days to make the resolution “binding” (whatever that actually means).

In essence, you can’t be disenfranchised if you never had the opportunity for your vote to count in a meaningful way in the first place. At least that is my opinion.

What is the deal with the frantic copyright disclaimer posts that people are posting to their walls?

They are a hoax. Copyrights in the U.S. are inherent to the author at the time a piece is created. Facebook even says as much on their website.

When you post to Facebook, you grant them a user license to use and display that content on according to the SRR document. If you want to sell that photo you uploaded of your Thanksgiving turkey to The New Yorker you may do so unencumbered! Copyright rules do not change under the proposed SRR.

If you violate someone else’s copyright by posting content illegally to Facebook, that is a different story and they have the power to remove that content (and you have the right to an appeal under the SRR).

Notification of Voting

Twitter is my bread and butter, so I shunt all Facebook related emails out of my inbox and into a folder where they stay for many months. I would expect that Facebook would put a banner on the top of the site when you log in for important things such as this (as Wikipedia does), but their subdued notifications probably missed a lot of people. Perhaps that is why on a site with one billion members, only one percent actually votes in these elections. We know that researchers motivated people to vote in the 2010 U.S. midterm election with a simple intervention on Facebook (the “I voted” button and counter), so it’s odd that Facebook can’t get out the vote with it’s own users.

Presentation of issues

When I went to vote earlier today, I expected to vote Yes or No on simply worded phrases explaining to me what the changes were in these proposed documents. For example, we voted on a constitutional amendment in Illinois this past election, and the wording was as follows:

If you believe the Illinois Constitution should be amended to require a three-fifths majority vote in order to increase a benefit under any public pension or retirement system, you should vote YES on the question. If you believe the Illinois Constitution should not be amended to require a three-fifths majority vote in order to increase a benefit under any public pension or retirement system, you should vote NO on the question. Three-fifths of those voting on the question or a majority of those voting in the election must vote “YES” in order for the amendment to become effective on January 9, 2013.

It’s not the best, but it clearly explains what the consequences of your vote will be.

When I went to review the issues for the Facebook election, there were four links to Very Long Documents: two links for the old SSR and data use policy, and two links for the proposed SSR and data use policy. As far as I could tell, there was no document telling you what the differences between the documents were or what would change based on your vote. Even the language on the ballot was vague:

Which documents should govern the Facebook site?

  • Proposed Documents: The proposed SSR and Data Use Policy
  • Existing Documents: The current SSR and Data Use Policy

So how should I vote?

I see this more as a referendum on the way these policy change ballots are handled. It’s hard to vote intelligently when you don’t understand the issues at hand (or at all if you don’t know that you’re supposed to vote). I personally voted against these new documents not because I am strongly opposed to the changes (as I understand them), but because I do not approve of the process for making myself heard to the governing body of this site, I am not satisfied with my past efforts in expressing my opinions, and because I would like the opportunity to do so through the existing comment/ballot system when future changes are proposed.

If I got anything wrong or you have specific language on the differences between the documents, I encourage you to leave a comment.