Facebook’s recent attempt at playing democracy are perhaps a good example of a Web site that’s gone too far with user engagement and promised more than it is able, or willing to deliver.
Facebook held a governance vote that closed yesterday and received more than 650,000 votes from its site users. In that vote 88 per cent voted for “Existing Documents: The current SRR and Data Use Policy” while a mere 12 per cent voted for “Proposed Documents: The proposed SRR and Data Use Policy.”
If you have no idea what that really means, you can be excused. Facebook’s use of legal jargon is only one of the layers of confusion the social network has created around this issue in an attempt to do what it wants to do while also trying to be able to say that it did its best to involve site users in the decision. Basically, the vote comes down to a yes or no question on whether users wanted to allow Facebook to share their personal data with its business partners, such as recent acquisition Instagram.
So despite the opaque language used by Facebook – which was in a poll held in the Facebook Site Governance app – 88 per cent of voters still said “no, don’t share my personal data.” But Facebook is going ahead to do so in any case, because the poll didn’t reach the 30 per cent required threshold imposed by Facebook, so they only have to treat it as a matter of guidance (meaning they can ignore it if it doesn’t suit their business interests.)
Considering that 30 per cent is about the level of voter turnout in some municipal elections, it seems unreasonable to expect that when it comes to a social network. It’s not like Facebook issued a pop-up screen to each user that presented the choice clearly to each user either. Rather, Facebook should look to the practice of public polling to take stock of its results here.
With hundreds of thousands of votes collected, the poll would definitely be considered statistically significant and representative of Facebook’s population by social science standards. Polls of 1,000 to 2,000 randomly chosen individuals are considered to represent real-world populations of hundreds of millions with 95 per cent confidence.
By presenting a choice to users in a less-than-transparent way and then doing the opposite of a clearly sent message by those users, Facebook has only invited more disdain from its users. It’s unfortunate, as a process designed to collect feedback from a very engaged group of users should result in positive outcomes.
It goes to show that when businesses engage their customers as stakeholders, they must be careful about offering them choices in policy that they aren’t actually willing to consider.