Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Stop Facebook's new face

It's time to face facts about Facebook

The world's largest social networking site now has one billion active users.  That’s a population larger than every country in the world except China (1.3 billion) and India (1.2 billion).  

But there it doesn't stop. 

Facebook Founder and President, Mark Zuckerberg  – described as having an ‘iron grip’ on the company – is on an expansion trip to grow his population of ‘faces’ to 5 billion in less than ten years.  That’s only 2 billion faces short of the world’s entire population. 

Yet as the population of Facebook expands, it’s commitment to democracy and privacy is shrinking.  Facebook has just announced new privacy laws and closure of democratic rights for members.  Until now, any changes to its governance policy could be put to a vote if more than 7,000 members made comments within 7 days.  Then, a vote by more than 30% of active users would be binding on the company.   


Last week Facebook said it was too big for democracy and wanted to scrap the vote. Instead of following the example of the world’s largest democracy (India), it has decided instead to emulate one of the world’s least democratic states (China).  Facebook said it wanted to, “end the voting component of the process."

But the new system might yet be blocked using the rules of the old one.  For this to happen, more than 7,000 members must leave a comment by tomorrow (Wednesday) on Facebook’s “Proposed Updates to our Governing Documents.”  I've just left my comment on that page as follows:

“I oppose the changes and want a vote about the demands on www.our-policy.org”

As of this hour, almost 18,000 other Facebook members have left similar comments.  If you're a Facebook user who feels the same way, please leave a comment too.  So long as Facebook isn't two-faced, these comments in favour of democracy should automatically lead to a vote of members.  If more than 30% of active users then vote, the result has to be binding on the company – according to the existing rules.

But let’s face it: is there any chance that the land of Facebook will retain its current (slight) democracy?  Unfortunately, the numbers don’t look good.  For sure, the threshold of 7,000 comments needed to secure a vote will be easily passed, because almost three times that number has already been reached.  But it was actually quite difficult to mobilise 18,000 Facebook users to leave a comment, despite world-wide media attention.  Those leaving comments so far represent only a tiny fraction of all Facebook users: only .002%.  


To win a subsequent vote against the proposed new Facebook rules will actually require over 30% of the membership to speak up.  That’s over 300 million Facebook users.  It seems unlikely. The biggest problem: most Facebook social networkers don’t seem that bothered about the governance rules, old or new.  Many more might be, though – if only they fully realised how extensively Facebook uses their personal data and how Facebook postings are rarely ever private.  (On that I will be writing a separate blog soon).

So, if the bid to stop Facebook's new face turns out to be fruitless,  the new rules will come into force. Members will then have to put on a brave face to the brave new world of Facebook. In my view, the new privacy rules will offer considerably less privacy than before.  And they’ll be no rights to votes.  Instead, Facebook users will be able to enjoy a materteral relationship with Erin Egan, the company’s new Privacy Director.  She will offer regular webcast homilies, allowing members to ‘ask questions’.   

Not as egalitarian or as elegant as the old system, but hey, it’s cosy, and conveniently unbinding on the company.   Let’s hope it doesn't happen.  The old face of Facebook had many flaws.  But the new proposed face looks positively monstrous.

© Copyright Jon Danzig 2012


  1. I want my fb comments viewed only by those I chose to see them. I thought this was a fairly secure site.

  2. Facebook is part of the internet and comments posted there can be seen by the world, and even logged by search engines, unless you choose to restrict the audience. Even then if you write that, say, you're planning a holiday, you'll probably see adverts for holidays suddenly appear on your page.

    You may select a private audience for your comments on your page, but if you comment on a friend's page that is set to 'public' then your comments can certainly be seen, shared, copied, reported and forwarded by all other Facebook users - over one billion of them. It's important to understand the symbols that indicate whether a posting is 'public' or 'restricted'.

    You may set privacy settings so that no one can see who your other Facebook friends are, but that doesn't stop Facebook suggesting to your friends that your 'hidden' friends could also be their friends. So not much privacy there.

    There are serious concerns about the safety of personal data on Facebook. I plan to write another blog about this in due course.

  3. it has decided instead to emulate one of the world’s least democratic states (China). Facebook said it wanted to, end the voting component of the process. Glyn Willmoth


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