Facebook vote gets low turnout, results ignored

14 Jun 2012

Facebook’s site governance vote is over, but did the social network listen to its users? No, is the short answer.

Facebook’s second-ever site governance vote concluded last Friday, and the count revealed only 342,632 members out of 900m cast their votes on the proposed updates to its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities (SRR) and Data Use Policy – a turnout of just 0.04pc.

Facebook’s vice-president of communications, public policy and marketing, Elliot Schrage, had previously stated in a blog that the results of the vote would only be binding if more than 30pc of all active registered users took part. Otherwise, the results would only be taken under advisement.

The company’s recent IPO filing measured the site’s monthly active users at 845m as of the end of last year, which means Facebook was asking for votes from 253.5m users before it would take their security decision on board.

The voting period opened on 1 June and closed on 8 June, giving users just one week to have their say.

Voters reject changes to policy

Of the 342,632 members that did vote during this time period, 297,883 (87pc) voted that Facebook should keep its existing SRR and Data Use Policy. However, by 3.14pm on Friday, 8 June – just hours after the vote had closed – Schrage announced via the Facebook blog that the proposed updates to the policies were in effect.

Schrage assures that a number of factors were considered in making this decision. “We strongly believe these updates provide you with more detail and transparency about our data protections and practices,” he wrote. “We received a great deal of positive feedback about these changes from our regulators and the many other stakeholders – including privacy and consumer groups – we consulted about these revisions.”

The proposed changes to the Data Use Policy included changes to its data retention provisions, allowing members’ information collected by advertisers to be stored for longer than 180 days (the previous time limit). Facebook also clarified that it may show any kind of advertising to members who are off-site.

Amendments to the SRR were made to reflect new features on the site, such as Facebook Timeline, and updates to both of these policies comes in response to an audit by the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, among other things.

Facebook claims a substantial outreach effort

Schrage’s post expresses the company’s disappointment at the low number of votes submitted on the matter, despite its “substantial outreach effort”. This claim has incensed some members of the Facebook community, who say that information regarding the vote was minimal, with the majority of users unaware it was even taking place.

Considering Facebook can – and does – send users notifications via email, and previous developments regarding the site’s layout and interface have been pinned to the top of user’s news feeds, it’s surprising that none of these tactics were used to promote the site governance vote. Also, when measurements focus on active users’ monthly usage, why not give users that much time to access the vote?

Schrage writes: “We made significant efforts to make voting easy and accessible – including translating the documents and voting application into several of the world’s most popular languages and providing extensive notice through users’ news feeds and desktop and mobile advertisements. There has also been widespread media attention and coverage of our notice and comment and voting process.”

Though it is true that 0.04pc of a community can’t be considered a representative number, the way in which the voting process was conducted can understandably be called into question to explain this figure.

Considering how few users actually read privacy policies, it seems more of an effort could have been made to publicise the vote and promote awareness among users. Schrage claims Facebook is now reviewing the site governance vote process to determine its effectiveness in future.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.