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.