Facebook Drafts New Governing Documents, Adopts New User Voting Process on Policy Changes

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fblogosmallFacebook has announced a new approach to the development of the site’s policies and terms of service that gives users a voice at the table.

Under the new system, Facebook has created two new documents: the Principles of the Facebook Service and the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities that will effectively supercede all previous Terms of Service for users, developers, and advertisers.

In addition, Facebook has created a new process of “notice and comment” on changes to the documents. Proposed changes to these documents that elicit a large volume of feedback will proceed into a new user voting process.

Drafts of the two documents are available for input in two Facebook Groups: Facebook Town Hall: Facebook Proposed Principles and Facebook Town Hall: Proposed Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. Facebook made an announcement to all users on the Facebook home page this morning, and thousands of people have already joined both groups.

Today’s announcement marks a big step in Facebook’s process to open the terms and rules of the site to user input and feedback. Last week, Facebook reverted changes made to its Terms of Service earlier this month after complaints from some users and privacy advocates.

“We are one of the only services on the web where people are sharing pretty personal and intimate information,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said earlier today. “We thought it made sense that instead of having a traditional terms of service, developing new governing documents was a pretty important thing to do here.”

As part of the announcement, Facebook announced that all changes to the governing documents will be posted publicly inside the “Town Hall” groups for a period of review and comment by users. Those changes that receive a lot of user comments will be put to a user vote.

“Ultimately we have a lot of trust in our users, and listening to user input is very important. We’re making it so that we can’t just put in a new terms of service without everyone’s permission. We think these changes will increase the bonding and trust users place in the service,” Zuckerberg said.

While the exact format of the voting process was not announced, Facebook said the votes may not necessary be “up or down,” but that it may propose alternatives to users.

“Because these new documents are so fundamental and important, changes to these will definitely be subject to a vote of users. It’s not necessarily going to be an up or down vote – there may be alternatives. We trust our users, and we think they are going to respond positively to this. We underestimated the amount of ownership Facebook users feel on the site,” said Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s VP of Communications and Public Policy.

“The silver lining over the last couple weeks is that people feel a visceral connection to their rights and responsibilities on the service,” Zuckerberg said.

The move is a pretty big step toward helping users feel like they have ownership over the direction of Facebook’s rules. While Facebook will still inevitably have to manage differences between its business strategy and user preferences, today’s announcement should go a long way toward helping concerned users feel like they have a more constructive way to affect the policy creation process as opposed to starting protest rallies.

We’ll be following the new process closely – and how it goes with users, developers, and advertisers – over the next several weeks.

Below, we’ve reprinted Facebook’s proposed principles. The proposed Statement of Rights and Responsibilities goes into more detail on safety, security, developer issues, advertiser issues, mobile, and payments.

The Facebook Principles

We are building Facebook to make the world more open and transparent, which we believe will create greater understanding and connection. Facebook promotes openness and transparency by giving individuals greater power to share and connect, and certain principles guide Facebook in pursuing these goals. Achieving these principles should be constrained only by limitations of law, technology, and evolving social norms. We therefore establish these Principles as the foundation of the rights and responsibilities of those within the Facebook Service.

1. Freedom to Share and Connect

People should have the freedom to share whatever information they want, in any medium and any format, and have the right to connect online with anyone – any person, organization or service – as long as they both consent to the connection.

2. Ownership and Control of Information

People should own their information. They should have the freedom to share it with anyone they want and take it with them anywhere they want, including removing it from the Facebook Service. People should have the freedom to decide with whom they will share their information, and to set privacy controls to protect those choices. Those controls, however, are not capable of limiting how those who have received information may use it, particularly outside the Facebook Service.

3. Free Flow of Information

People should have the freedom to access all of the information made available to them by others. People should also have practical tools that make it easy, quick, and efficient to share and access this information.

4. Fundamental Equality

Every Person – whether individual, advertiser, developer, organization, or other entity – should have representation and access to distribution and information within the Facebook Service, regardless of the Person’s primary activity. There should be a single set of principles, rights, and responsibilities that should apply to all People using the Facebook Service.

5. Social Value

People should have the freedom to build trust and reputation through their identity and connections, and should not have their presence on the Facebook Service removed for reasons other than those described in Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.

6. Open Platforms and Standards

People should have programmatic interfaces for sharing and accessing the information available to them. The specifications for these interfaces should be published and made available and accessible to everyone.

7. Fundamental Service

People should be able to use Facebook for free to establish a presence, connect with others, and share information with them. Every Person should be able to use the Facebook Service regardless of his or her level of participation or contribution.

8. Common Welfare

The rights and responsibilities of Facebook and the People that use it should be described in a Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, which should not be inconsistent with these Principles.

9. Transparent Process

Facebook should publicly make available information about its purpose, plans, policies, and operations. Facebook should have a town hall process of notice and comment and a system of voting to encourage input and discourse on amendments to these Principles or to the Rights and Responsibilities.

10. One World

The Facebook Service should transcend geographic and national boundaries and be available to everyone in the world.