Facebook Opens Up To User Debates And Votes

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg held a press conference Thursday to discuss the uproar over the social network's failed attempt earlier this month to revise its privacy policy. But instead of simply releasing yet another terms-of-service document, he revealed a new, community-driven process for governing Facebook.

The thrust of the new plan is that future changes in the Facebook agreements with users will be put up for open debate in a process of "notice and comment." The forum will be open to all Facebook users. If Facebook proposes a modification to a term of service that is uncontroversial or has limited feedback, it will get incorporated into the user agreement after a stated period of time. But if there's argument or division over a proposed change, users will be able to debate them and ultimately vote on updates to the Facebook agreements.

Zuckerberg called this new scheme the "governing document" of Facebook going forward. "Openness and transparency," he said, "isn't an end state. It's a process to get there."

Facebook will form a "user council" to discuss policies closely with Facebook. For the first council, Facebook said it would "invite the authors of the most insightful and constructive comments on the draft documents to serve as founding members of the group."(A truly open council would include members selected by the Facebook community itself, so perhaps we'll have elected Facebook representatives at some point.)

The new democratic Facebook governance was strongly influenced by the recent flap over the Facebook terms-of-service change. Zuckerberg said, "We took last week as a strong signal of how much people cared about Facebook and how much they want to govern it."

Zuckerberg also made it clear that the new governance applied only to fundamental issues of privacy and data ownership, and not the Facebook product itself: "There will be hundreds and thousands of product changes going forward, and that's not what we're talking about. This is about the rules and framework."

The Facebook Statement of Rights and Responsibilities (formerly the "Terms of Service"), now clearly states that Facebook does not claim ownership of user content, although the act of using Facebook does grant the company non-exclusive rights to do what it wants with the content. However, you can end that agreement by deleting items or leaving Facebook: "This license ends when you delete your content or your account," the Statement says.

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