Now that this Facebook Vote is over, and I’ve been able to read the results and learn about the newest changes in policy that are already enacted – I found myself feeling pretty confused. I wasn’t sure if it was the language (is their legalese too dense to really understand?), the policies themselves, or just merely the fact that I’m not sure why users had the “right” to vote anyways – and furthermore, once giving that right, why ignore the results and decide to take away voting in the future?
If you’re scratching your head too – fear not. I decided to jump onto the ole Facebook messenger (ironically) and catch up with some contacts of mine who seem to know a few things about a few things. What resulted was some very thoughtful conversation and some well-worded explanations that have me grasping the concepts a lot better know that I did at first.
If you want to read a detailed background piece about the vote – check out the Snoo.ws Post from Friday, it was all about the Vote, the results, and everything in between.
Here’s a brief synopsis:
Facebook bought Instagram earlier this year. Last month, Fb posted a note about updating some of their governing policies, particularly concerning data sharing and privacy. Facebook users were unhappy, an onslaught of comments pummeled Facebook, and so they offered the public a chance to vote.
Everyone on Facebook could vote, the poll was open for a week. A third party auditor confirmed that everything was legit. The voter turnout of 668,872 voters was no where near the 30% threshold Facebook required for the decision to become binding (300 million votes were needed). Facebook claimed that if less than 30% voted, the voter’s decision would serve in an advisory capacity.
88% of voters were against the new policies. That’s 589,141 voters out of 668.872. Half a million people weren’t digging it. Yet… Facebook decided to do what they wanted to do from the beginning, and changed their docs.
I first started hashing this all out with my friend Adam Avitable. He’s the author of “Interviews with Dead Celebrities” and humorist at Avitable.com.
Rose: Do you think that social media users in general view these platforms not as a commodity, but as a utility – same as electric or water? Hence the feeling of wanting a say in how they are governed?
Other than legal parameters that keep products and services safe for consumers, what’s the responsibility of a business to seek guidance from consumers?
Adam: I think that if a service is going to promote its use as being a platform for a user to talk about their personal feelings, thoughts, emotions, or to share personal photos or other items, it’s not strange that the users of that platform would feel the right to dictate how that material is used. An automobile’s safety is governed in some ways by the consumers demanding it, and I think that the privacy of personal information is a reasonable parallel to that.
Social media is unique because it’s the first situation, as far as I know, where the consumer and the service need each other. It’s symbiotic, and so the rules and usage of it should be socially and communally decided.
Rose: That’s a great comparison, and pointing out the duality of one end needing the other is important. What about the implied risk in posting and sharing personal material?
Adam: It depends if the user is informed how the material can be viewed publicly. For years, hundreds, if not thousands, of bloggers have posted personal information without repercussion, and I don’t agree that there is an implied risk automatically. But if someone is under the reasonable impression that he or she is sharing material with a close circle of friends, and that assumption is wrong, it can be dangerous for a small percentage of the population. What if you just found out that all of your email was actually publicly accessible? Would you feel like you had a right to demand privacy restrictions on that, or did you assume the risk by sharing your thoughts via email with people personally and what you thought was privately?
Rose: Yeah, wow – I see what you mean. GREAT analogy! I guess for me, it would depend on the use. If I knew that software was scanning for keywords to market ads to me, I wouldn’t mind. That happens already. If I knew that someone could pull it up as if it were public record, I’d freak out.
Adam: Yeah, I think most people would.
Rose: So, for users who rely on technology and social mediums, perhaps the disconnect in the back end of how things work is an issue?
Adam: People want to feel assured that their private information remains private, no matter what. They don’t want to have to understand legalese or the nuances of a complex privacy statement. In the end, the platforms that provide the social media services have to decide whether it’s important to them to limit their invasion of privacy to the realm of using information anonymously for advertising purposes or if they would rather risk the loss of a large portion of their users. Facebook may be the largest platform around, but it won’t be forever.
I hate to keep relying on analogies, but someone’s online presence is a virtual home. I don’t expect the builder who builds my house to be able to share, or even have access to, what goes on within these four walls. But, if he wants to put a sign in the front yard and take a photo of the house to put in his portfolio, that’s acceptable.
Yes, Facebook is free, so there is an assumption that one should have fewer rights, but I disagree and think that the philosophy should be similar to that of the builder.
Pretty great analogies, huh? I’m really glad I asked him.
While I was chatting with Adam, I also asked my friend Chas Jordan. He’s the Management Analyst III for the city of Largo, Florida. Since he’s government guy, I usually trust his ability to interpret policy.
Rose: (gives Adam’s analogy about car safety and consumers) If car manufacturers don’t make cars with the safety features consumers want, they won’t have a business. Likewise, Fb needs users and if users feel like their personal data, images, thoughts and feelings aren’t safe… they won’t use Fb. What do you think?
Chas: Yeah, but social media has a different perspective than most businesses, it’s a community that just does not have physical boundaries. Facebook isn’t available to just make money, it’s owners use it for that, but its service has no cost and provides something that is not economic in nature.
Most companies that are service based still utilize consumer reviews or consumer groups to guide their product development and planning.
Rose: Very great point. Can I quote you on that??
And, at the same time, I was also chatting with my running buddy up here in Buffalo – Gloria Wise. She’s a social media user, and by trade she works for an electronic information company.
Gloria said, of her job, “In the old days, I would have been called a “copyeditor” and used a blue pencil on paper. Now it’s all pdfs and XML, etc.”
Rose: Facebook offered users a chance to vote on policy changes, if 30% of users voted – the results would be binding. Because there are 1 billion accounts, 300 million people did not vote. So… the votes went (largely) ignored and Fb updated policies anyways.
But… Fb is a business, created by a person and now owned and run by a board. Yes, it’s publicly traded, but I’m not sure why users feel like they are “owed” a voice. Having shareholders vote would be one thing, but regular users? Why is that important?
Gloria: Well, it doesn’t surprise me that FB would do whatever it wants. They’re a big company and most of us are disengaged.
I know what you mean about why we users should feel empowered. The greatest power we have is actually to turn off FB and go to another form of communication. Do people actually even consider that they have that great power? I mean, look at Myspace? That used to be such a powerful communication tool. The only large utility that I see for it is for marketing music or video.
Rose: You have a great point, people could just get fed up and walk away.
I’m just trying to understand the relationship between Fb users, social media users in general – and say, any consumer of any product. Outside of the legal protections in a place like the USA that make sure products and services citizens use are safe, what say do we have over any business? I don’t tell department stores in the mall what to sell, nor do I demand a vote.
On the other hand, I would protest a store, if say, I found out they were withholding benefits from full time employees.
Gloria: Well, a protest against a store would be a similar action to posting a snarky comment on a Website. It may impede others from patronizing the business, but it may or may not influence the company from taking action.
Rose: Moral of the story? Power to the people! Or, at least there are ways that people can make an honest try at having their voices heard.
Thanks to my friends for chatting with me and hashing this out! I hope that some of these conversations and analogies help put this situation into a point of view that makes it a bit easier to understand.