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The executives at Facebook may be under a grand delusion: they seem to think that Facebook is a nation. And they're attempting to build it a government.
This is, of course, a tremendously stupid idea.
Sure, Facebook has had PR trainwrecks before, and all were exercises in hubris; first there was the Beacon debacle, then its parochial ban on breastfeeding photos, and most recently, the new terms of service that tried to claim ownership over users' data.
That last catastrophe generated more antipathy from users than perhaps any one before it. But Facebook's high-minded reaction will surely dwarf any of its past gaffes--and unlike those earlier ones, this one has the potential to truly damage usership. Facebook calls it "a new approach to site governance" that gives users "an unprecedented role in determining the future policies." What it really is: a deeply flawed 21st century political experiment. Prepare to sit back and watch it burn.
Here's the milieu: Facebook announced this week that it would craft Principles of Service and a Statement of Rights and Responsibilities meant to protect its users from abuse of their data. The social network also went one step further: It announced that it will hold "virtual Town Hall meetings" where users will get to comment on the Principles and the Statement of Rights. After the comments are digested by Facebook policymakers, they'll take the finalized documents and put them to a public vote. All users (as of 2/25/09) are eligible to vote, and quorum will be set at 30% of users.
Here's where things get weird. Facebook has stipulated that this voting process will become a matter of course any time Facebook wants to change its service terms. "[A]ll future policy changes would be eligible for a vote by users, provided the level of intensity of user interest would justify it," the company's press release says.
Weirder still: Facebook wants to establish a provisional government. Check out this paragraph tucked into the end of that same press release:
Facebook also announced its intention to establish a user council to participate more closely in the development and discussion of policies and practices. As a start, the company indicated that it would invite the authors of the most insightful and constructive comments on the draft documents to serve as founding members of the group. [Emphasis mine.]
Not coincidentally, all of these initiatives are couched in the language of colonial nation-building. In a blog post on February 17, CEO Mark Zuckerberg observed, "More than 175 million people use Facebook. If it were a country, it
would be the sixth most populated country in the world." He went on to call Facebook's new terms a "governing
document" for how the service is used, and in a press conference, made reference to "openness and tran...
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