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Facebook users to vote on whether they get to vote on social network changes

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More than 18 000 people have commented on Facebook’s proposed changes to its governing documents. That enough to trigger a vote on the proposed changes.

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The vote comes into play as the electronic privacy information centre (EPIC), along with other privacy groups, has asked the social network to withdraw some its proposed changes. These include sharing its data with that of Instagram and removing the ability to vote on the proposed changes.

When Facebook announced the proposed changes last week, it said it was proposing scrapping the ability for people to vote on the changes, because the voting system “resulted in a system that incentivized the quantity of comments over their quality“.

EPIC disagrees however and says that the proposed changes may actually be illegal: “These proposed changes raise privacy risks for users, may be contrary to law, and violate your previous commitments to users about site governance, we urge you to withdraw the proposed changes.”

The changes, it adds, “raises questions about Facebook’s willingness to take seriously the participation of Facebook users”.

In a joint letter to Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the presidents of EPIC and the Center for Digital Democracy also accuse the social network of going back on its commitment “building and growing Instagram independently.” The letter warns that the proposed changes might put Facebook in contravention of the terms of its privacy settlement with the FCC.

As it stands, enough people (over 7 000) have commented (bear in mind the old governance documents still stand at this stage) to allow for a vote. If less than 30% of Facebook’s user base votes then the decision of the majority will reportedly be taken under advisement, with Facebook having the ultimate say.

Thirty percent may sound like a low threshold, but bear in mind that Facebook has a billion registered users. Getting people interested enough to vote in political elections is difficult enough. Getting hundreds of millions interested enough to vote on the documents that dictate how a social network is run could be an absolute nightmare.

Still at least voting is an option now, although Facebook is right to suggest that the number of comments shouldn’t dictate whether an issue goes to vote. Getting 7 000 people to comment is a lot easier than getting hundreds of millions to vote and means that trivial issues could be delayed by vote.

Removing the vote however would be terrible for the democratic values of the social network and, in the words of Buzzfeed’s Michael Phillips, risks reducing the social network’s users to “datapoints on an advertising algorithm”.

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