Odds Of Facebook Governance Vote Counting: Next to Nothing

When Facebook announced the “Facebook Governance” voting back in February, Mark Zuckerberg hailed it as an “unprecedented” effort to involve users in the development of the terms of service. Almost two months later the voting has finally begun and around 260,000 individuals have voted on which terms to use. Within one week, 30 percent of the site’s population, or 60,000,000 individuals, will have to vote in order for the decision to stick. In other words, the vote is more symbolic than an actual vote.

Not All Users Will Be Active This Week

So why do we say that this vote is symbolic? Let’s first consider how many users will be active this week. If we are to assume that there are 200 million users on Facebook, and approximately 50 percent are active daily (a number that Facebook regularly tosses around), then at a minimum 100 million users will have the opportunity to vote. Let’s also assume that another 15 percent log in at least once a week.

That would mean 130 million users will have the opportunity to vote before next Thursday. That would also mean 46 percent of the active users over the next week will have to vote in order for the Facebook Governance Vote to count. Let’s compare this to the number of voters in last year’s U.S. election. According to the CIA World Factbook, the U.S. population as of July 2008 was 303,824,640.

Of the almost 304 million United States citizens, 129,438,754 votes were counted, according to CNN. In percentage terms, that means 42.6 percent of U.S. population had their votes counted last year. The difference between a 42.6 percent voting turnout and 46 percent (the percentage of estimated weekly active Facebook users that will need to vote in order for the Site Governance Vote to count) is not unreasonably large.

Voting Is Only In English

However, the voting is only in English and a large percentage of Facebook’s users (around 30 – 40 percent) don’t speak English. There are many languages spoken on Facebook though and just like Switzerland where there are multiple official languages (German, French, and Italian), Facebook should theoretically have multiple official languages given their large international reach.

Unfortunately, language wasn’t considered for this vote. That means you can essentially remove 30 percent of the estimated 130 million weekly active users. If you do the math, this means there will be approximately 91 million English speaking users that visit Facebook over the one week voting period. This also means that approximately 66 percent of English speaking users that visit Facebook during the Site Governance Voting period will need to vote.

If the world’s largest democracy can’t get anywhere near that sort of voter turnout, how can Facebook?

Do the Users Really Care?

So while my fifth grade math calculations are not a perfect science, the real question is: do Facebook users care about the Site Governance vote? So far almost 260,000 users have voted and that number continues to grow at a fairly decent pace. Compare that to Ashton Kutcher who was able to attract over 600,000 fans to his public profile in just 3 days. I think we know what issues Facebook users are most concerned about. Here’s a hint about what issue users don’t care about: Facebook’s terms of service.

It’s not exactly news but rallying individuals in support of something is much more challenging than rallying people against an issue. Facebook users tend to be much more reactionary and when Facebook changes something, users tend to lash out. Eventually the hype dies down and the users continue on using the service.

Less of A Vote, More of A Statement

When all is said and done, the Facebook Governance vote is less of an actual vote and more of a statement by Facebook to the users: you can have a say in the future of Facebook. Ultimately though, the users already do have a say regardless of whether or not they vote. If they all stop using the service tomorrow, Facebook will be forced to change the way it functions.

Luckily for Facebook, the users aren’t running for the doors. Instead, close to one million users are joining daily and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down for the time being. Whether or not 60 million users participate in the Facebook Governance vote, the site remains to be the largest global social network, and the users appear to love it.

As one commenter has pointed out, the documents were posted in multiple languages even though the voting application is only in English. At least other people can read the documents even if they can’t understand how to vote.

Update 2
Barry Schnitt of Facebook has posted a comment below which clarifies a few things. First, Barry states that the application has been translated into “French, Spanish, Italian, or German”. I have personally tried switching languages and for some reason it won’t display in any of those languages for me. Let me know if you can get it to display.

Another interesting thing that Barry states is that a whopping 80 percent of Facebook users return weekly (greater than my estimated 65 percent). These two things definitely increase the odds that the vote will reach 60 million individuals. Barry also states that they have decided to extend “the vote for an entire week.” Finally, Facebook will “be promoting the vote to users in a number of ways, including messages at the top of everyone’s profile (in multiple languages), ads, virtual gifts, stream stories from users who vote.”

It’s pretty clear that Facebook is attempting to get 60 million users to vote. Unfortunately as of this morning, the voting has reached 280,863 votes, only 20,000 more votes than 24 hours ago. I’m guessing we’ll see that number increase over the coming days as people log back in during the work week.

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