When voting ended yesterday on the Facebook terms of service, around 600,000 people had voted, and about 70% of those votes were cast for the new documents drafted over the past couple of months. Although the voting total was nowhere near the 30% of active Facebook users that Facebook said would be required, the site is still considering validating the vote and implementing the new terms after the audit is complete.
We know that many people have been worried that Facebook was pretending at this whole process, and that by setting the minimum vote threshold so high they were trying to sabotage it while maintaining the appearance of cooperation. We were skeptical, too. But if Facebook goes ahead and implements the new documents despite the small turnout, we think most critics will have to admit that Facebook is actually trying to listen to its users.
The real question then is, should they? Less than a third of 1% of active users bothered to participate in this recent vote, and it was publicized on Facebook and online through various websites and blogs. (There’s a Facebook Governance Page you should become a fan of if you want to make sure you’ll always be alerted to new votes or issues.) Facebook says that if they go ahead and implement the new terms, they may drop that minimum requirement for any future votes—but we sort of think if such a small group cares what Facebook does (despite the outcry in February) then maybe they should just seek input from Site Governance fans, and leave the decision making to an internal committee.
The more than 600,000 users who voted constitute a significant number of people, but at the same time that’s a small number compared to our user base of more than 200 million. We made significant efforts to make voting easy and to give everyone the opportunity to vote — including by translating the documents and voting application into several of the most popular languages on the site, showing a message about the vote on users’ home pages, and running advertisements and videos across Facebook promoting the vote.
We’d hoped to have a bigger turnout for this inaugural vote, but it is important to keep in mind that this vote was a first for users just like it was a first for Facebook. We are hopeful that there will be greater participation in future votes. In the meantime, we’re going to consider lowering the 30-percent threshold that the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities establishes for a user vote to be binding.
Anyway, hooray for clearer terms and firmly established ownership and license issues. No matter what Facebook decides to do next, we think this has been an interesting look at how websites and users can work with each other to protect everyone’s interests.