Democracy (Sort of) Comes to Facebook

Facebook today rolled out a change to its terms of service, after an earlier attempt went terribly wrong. What’s most interesting about the new terms is Facebook’s commitment to transparency and its willingness to put future changes that generate a lot of controversy up for a vote.

You can find a link to its new Principals (akin to the U.S. Constitution) here. These principals will govern its future Terms of Service (akin to the the laws enacted by the U.S. Congress), which are now called the Statement of Rights & Responsibilities. Facebook users have until March 29th to comment on aspects of both “documents;” it will then take those comments into account in a republished version. It will also publish a summary of the most significant comments and a response to those comments, when appropriate.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg on a conference call touted the effort as one way to keep Facebook’s incredibly diverse community of users involved and participating on the socail networking site, but I bet it ends up showing Facebook and the irate blogosphere how little people care about terms of service agreements, even if they are written in “plain English.”

So when Zuckerberg says this step is “all about trusting our users,” I expect he’s trusting most of the 175 million folks using Facebook to shrug their shoulders and forget about commenting on and reading these updates — much like so many people tend to do at the polls. Perhaps some issues, such as the inability to delete information from a closed account or the proposed sale of your data to Russian hackers might get some attention, but on Facebook, as in America, the laws for the many will likely continue to be determined by the few who care most.

And as Om notes, while asking users to help craft user agreement is a noble idea, it’s hardly a novel one. Joe Smarr, CTO of Plaxo , created similar bill of rights in September 2007. And we put together a privacy manifesto for the Web 2.0 Era last year. So far, none of the web companies are really up to the snuff. Definitely not Facebook.