While Facebook's approach to involving the community in developing its new terms is admirable, there is a glaring problem with the vote that makes me question the results: Less than 1% of Facebook members participated.
According to Ullyot, who serves as the company's general counsel, more than 600,000 people cast their votes before polling ended on Thursday. While that's a significant number, it's a drop in the bucket compared to the more than 200 million people who belong to Facebook. If this were a public referendum, it's quite likely the vote would be considered invalid.
So what happened? It's certainly not a case of apathy -- the widespread condemnation of Facebook's unilateral move in February to change its terms of service prompted the company to back down after a few days and revise its governance policies.
But what Facebook failed to do was adequately publicize the vote this month. Ullyot states that the company made "significant efforts" to spread the word, by showing messages and advertisements and even translating the documents and the voting application into French, Spanish, Italian, and German. However, many users who left comments on Ullyot's blog claim that they didn't see these messages , or only found out about it through mainstream press coverage. Here's a sample of the reaction:
I had no idea this was happening until I heard it on NPR yesterday morning, AFTER it was too late to vote. How could this be as I'm on Facebook several times a day?
The only reason I knew the vote was happening, and why, was because of the New York magazine article that ran a few weeks ago. I forgot all about it until a posting at the top of the FB homepage caught my eye. Normally I gloss over those, so it's no wonder turnout was low. I tried to pass the word along to friends via my status, but the time limit was almost up. More promotion or a louder announcement of the vote and issues behind it would have probably resulted in better turnout. I'm confident the FB community would actively vote if there were more awareness.
If you wanted good turnout it would have been nice to be reminded a bit more. We may be spoiled by the press reminding us about elections so that we cannot help but remember to plan for it. Two suggestions: 1) Allow for an alarm to be set to remind us to vote -- hopefully with an email; 2) Give us an option to email the T/C for offline reading. I rarely have tons of time when online -- just enough to update a status and 'like' someone else's FB actions.
Ullyot admits that the company had hoped for a bigger turnout. In the meantime, he says Facebook will "consider lowering the 30-percent threshold that the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities establishes for a user vote to be binding." Of course, a problem with that approach is there may not be enough voters to approve such a change.