Facebook Announces First-Ever User Vote on Terms of Service Changes

As part of its new process for updating the site’s new Terms of Service documents, Facebook has announced the first-ever user vote on proposed changes. On April 16, Facebook will be posting revised versions of the new Facebook Principles and Statement of Rights and Responsibilities governing documents based on feedback it’s received since introducing them in February, and the voting period will run from April 16 to April 23.

Here’s how Facebook’s voting process works:

  • Last month, after reverting previous changes to its Terms of Service in response to user and press complaints, Facebook announced a new process for making updates to the TOS that includes a user comment period on any proposed changes.
  • If at least 7,000 users comment on the proposed changes during the comment period, Facebook will hold a user vote.
  • If 30% of all active users (defined as users who have logged in once in the last 30 days) vote, the results will be considered “binding.”
  • If less than 30% of all active users vote, the results will be considered “advisory” (i.e. non-binding).
  • Voting will be done through an application on the Facebook Platform developed by Wildfire, and Ernst & Young will “audit the vote tabulation… to ensure the votes are accurate.”

Facebook has clearly set the threshold for binding user votes extremely high – taking a conservative estimate that 175 million users have logged in during the last month, that means over 52 million users would need to vote on the changes to the new terms for them to be considered binding. Given that just over 3,000 users have commented on the proposed changes during the 30 day comment period, the probability of 52 million users voting on the changes (unless Facebook were to promote voting in an unprecedentedly heavy way) appears low.

Thus, the results of this vote will likely be considered “advisory.” What that means exactly, however, is unclear. Facebook is taking the stance that it is listening to user feedback about changes to the site’s TOS, but of course, it’s still running a business.

It will be interesting to see how the first voting process goes. How heavily will Facebook promote it? How many users will participate? What will it matter? We’ll have all the details.