Facebook may yet learn that power does not ensure immortality

Facebook wasted no time acting with impunity by (once again) diluting member privacy protections this week. But it needn’t have hurried. Any semblance of democracy was washed away at noon Pacific Time Tuesday, when a vote to have votes on policy changes went down in flames. It solidified the world’s largest social network’s rule by fiat. This may be good for business now, but in the long-run it could backfire.

On Tuesday not enough Facebook members weighed in on whether they should keep their right to vote down policy changes. The vote didn’t count unless 30 percent of the service’s 1 billion members bothered to vote.

The vote to keep the vote failed to meet the arbitrary threshold — by 299 million votes.

At pretty much the same time that vote ended, Facebook changed a number of privacy settings. Some made it easier for members to control what others knew about them by more prominently displaying who could contact them and who could see their “stuff,” in the parlance of Facebook. A different modification was a big improvement: a one-button link to block someone.

Another big change was the sort of matter on which members might have wanted to offer feedback: The elimination of the right to opt out of searches on Facebook. Director of Product Sam Lessin told the New York Times that only a “single-digit percentage of users” availed themselves of this feature. But as Nick Bilton notes in the article, even 1 percent of a billion is 10 million people who would rather be left alone and now won’t be.

Facebook’s private experiment with democracy

Facebook is having a vote on changes to its privacy policy. Not that you’d know it.

Voter turnout has always been a problem for developed nations, but what about developed social networks? Facebook, with its 900 million users, is often written about as if it were the personal prelature of its founder, Mark Zuckerberg. But Facebook itself prefers the term “ecosystem” – with good reason. Facebook’s engineers provide the basic conditions for life – the agar at the bottom of the social-media Petri dish. In turn, it’s developers and users who really craft their own worlds, their own experiences of Facebook – not Facebook itself. And whatever world they craft, it can only exist in the laws that govern the Facebook universe. Who ultimately decides those laws? Facebook.

Given that reality, it’s amazing that most users don’t care a lick about the vote happening on the site, right now, today, over proposed changes to Facebook’s privacy policies. Nor did they care much about the last vote over the site’s Terms of Service, which happened in 2009. Of course, it’s hard to care about something you don’t know is happening. Even though the vote is making the news here and there, there’s no inkling of any promotion on Facebook itself about what sounds like a rather important site event.

from The Great Debate:

Supporting the past, ignoring the future

By Rasmus Kleis Nielsen
The opinions expressed are his own.

Western media industries are going through a rapid and often painful transformation today with the rise of the Internet and mobile platforms, the erosion of the largest free-to-air broadcast audiences, and the decline of paid print newspaper circulation.

Despite all these changes, the important and sometimes neglected ways in which governments provide support for the media have remained largely unchanged for decades.

There is a real need to reform our 20th century support arrangements to make sure they effectively serve our needs in the 21st century. Public sector support for the media should not be industrial policy, propping up specific ailing incumbents, but democratic policy, aimed at ensuring that timely, accessible news from a diversity of sources is available to the entire population.

Let the sunshine in with

U.S. citizens need as much information as they can get to make the best decisions about their political system and the companies they invest in, believes Kim Cranston. The son of late California Democratic Senator Alan Cranston is using the Internet to do that.

Americans are more likely to face tough issues head on, such as climate change, if they have more information, Cranston says. For that reason, he, Jeff Manning, and some Stanford students have started a website to put an easy voting guide on the Web. The idea behind the website,, is to give people guideposts.

“A user can see how people they trust  are voting and why — Republican or Democrat, Chamber of Commerce, League of Women Voters, anything that is in there,” Cranston said. People can add their comments, too.