Facebook ends digital democracy experiment

It's no secret that Americans love democracy, but how about the world's largest social networking website?

On Wednesday, Nov. 21, while most Americans were heading to their turkey-day destinations, leaders at Facebook voted to take away users' right to vote on major changes to the site. And with 1 billion active users, apparently democracy is just too difficult with so many potential citizens.

Photo courtesy of castortroy520/Flickr

"Facebook now argues that it is too big for democracy, much like the Chinese government might," Michael Phillips of BuzzFeed, said. "Call this new regime Facebook with Authoritarian Characteristics."

Since 2009, Facebook has experimented with 'digital voting rights,' which allowed users to vote on major changes to issues like privacy. Facebook would abandon an initiative if 30 percent of users voted against it.

The site's press release explained that they hope the changes will lead to more constructive feedback (since voting isn't enough, apparently):

We deeply value the feedback we receive from you during our comment period. In the past, your substantive feedback has led to changes to the proposals we made. However, we found that the voting mechanism, which is triggered by a specific number of comments, actually resulted in a system that incentivized the quantity of comments over their quality. Therefore, we’re proposing to end the voting component of the process in favor of a system that leads to more meaningful feedback and engagement.

Why would Facebook ditch such an American-seeming idea? Blame it on the recent troubles surrounding the transition to being a publicly-traded company, meaning it is now accountable to regulators around the world. Now, users will have the option to submit questions and concerns to the privacy team, called the "Ask the Chief Privacy Offer" feature.

Photo courtesy of sitmonkeysupreme/Flickr

Some tech writers think Facebook users should be up in arms over this repeal. Slate's Will Oremus has encouraged users to take notice and mount their own revolt.

"Because it hasn't revoked that right yet, there is still time for you to mount a campaign to retain it, in theory," Oremous said. "But Facebook knows it's highly unlikely that you will. It turns out that, for all of the shrill cries that fly around the Internet every time (CEO Mark) Zuckerberg and company make a tweak, most people just don't care enough to take action. At least, not on the types of changes that Facebook allowed them to vote on."

Phillips said repealing Facebook suffrage requires users to fight for freedom.

"Facebook abandons a fundamental norm -- that its users are citizens in a community, and not simply datapoints on an advertising algorithm," Phillips said. "The vote may be quixotic, but if Facebook remains the indispensable social network, you'll want to be able to tell your grandchildren you fought for Facebook freedom. Who knows how Facebook will develop without your input."

So, Facebook users, will you fight for your freedom?

Cover photo courtesy of Scott Beale/Flickr