Facebook thumbs down democracy | News | DW | 11.12.2012
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Facebook thumbs down democracy

Amid resistance to proposed changes to user and privacy settings, social media behemoth Facebook offered up a vote. More than half a million said "no thanks," but the company would only have listened to 300 million.

Facebook closed its user polls, where members of the online network are invited to vote on possible changes to the platform, late on Monday and probably for the last time. A referendum on a string of changes, perhaps most notably users' rights to vote on proposed changes to the website, was met with overwhelming disapproval by more than 87 percent of voters.

The changes were opposed by 589,141 people, while 79,731 voiced support for the measures. Users had a week to cast their ballots. The vote courted the largest participation in Facebook history, though turnout equated to just under 0.07 percent of worldwide users.

Facebook, however, had set a minimum turnout of 30 percent of all members - equating to around 300 million people - for the vote not to be simply "taken under advisory."

The company, co-founded by billionaire Mark Zuckerberg, had previously said it was seeking alternatives to the user participation votes, owing to the low turnout in such ballots. Roughly one billion people are "active" users of Facebook, though the site's definition of activity has come under criticism because it does not necessarily require people to visit facebook.com.

"The Facebook Site Governance vote is now closed. Thank you for your participation. We will be announcing the results and the next steps regarding the governance process shortly, so check back soon," Facebook wrote on its website after the vote.

Quality over quantity?

Observers expect the current system - whereby Facebook put any proposed changes up for comment, with a vote triggered if at least 7,000 people responded - to be absolved.

According to the specialist website techcrunch.com, "Facebook will now attempt to pull in more qualitative feedback on how users feel about the proposed site governance and policy changes."

The company said in a comment to its customers posted last month that voting "resulted in a system that incentivized the quantity of comments over their quality." This statement garnered enough comments under Facebook's existing system to trigger a vote - but the site imposed the 30-percent turnout benchmark on the ballot for the first time in its history.

The vote also paved the way for Facebook to intermingle its users' data with affiliate companies like the recently-acquired Instagram, a photo-alteration software program.

If the proposed measures in the vote are implemented by Facebook, restrictions on who can send you private messages on the site will also be loosened.

msh/dr (AFP, dpa)