Facebook invites users to help set policy

Facebook is inviting its 150 million users to help decide how the social-networking site is run.
In keeping with the democratic nature of user-generated media, Facebook is inviting its 150 million users to help decide how the online gathering place is run.

A week after a policy-change blunder sparked widespread protests, the Web’s most popular social-networking site announced a new approach Thursday to give users more control over future Facebook rules and practices. Site managers published the Facebook Principles, a set of 10 values they hope will make Facebook more transparent, along with a proposed statement of rights and responsibilities governing privacy, content ownership and other issues. Users will be able to comment and vote on the wording of the documents. “As people share more information on services like Facebook, a new relationship is created between Internet companies and the people they serve,” Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, said in a statement. “The past week reminded us that users feel a real sense of ownership over Facebook itself, not just the information they share.” Facebook became caught in a content-rights battle after revealing this month that it was granting itself permanent rights to users’ photos, wall posts and other information, even after a user closed an account. Member backlash was swift and severe, as tens of thousands of angry users either canceled their accounts or created online petitions. To quell the uprising, Facebook hastily announced last week it was reverting to its old terms of use policy on member information “while we resolve the issues that people have raised.”

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Thursday’s announcement seemed aimed at further reassuring users that they, not Facebook, will retain rights to their postings. “You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, including information about you and the actions you take,” reads the proposed statement of rights and responsibilities, which condenses almost 40 pages of legal jargon into fewer than six pages. Facebook said Thursday it will continue to make independent decisions about the timing and rollout of products. But users will now help determine future changes to Facebook policies through online voting. Over the next month, the fast-growing site will host virtual “Town Halls” to collect user comments on the proposed new principles and statement of rights and responsibilities. As of Friday morning, more than 8,600 users had joined a Facebook group to solicit feedback regarding the proposed Facebook Principles, while more than 7,800 had joined a group that was set up to review the proposed statement of rights and responsibilities. Facebook says that after the comment period ends March 29, it will review users’ submissions, then republish its policies to incorporate feedback. All future policy changes would be subject to similar notice and comment periods. Facebook also plans to establish a user council to participate more closely in the development of future policies and practices. “Companies like ours need to develop new models of governance,” Zuckerberg added. “Rather than simply reissue a new Terms of Use, the changes we’re announcing today are designed to open up Facebook so that users can participate meaningfully in our policies and our future.” Initial reaction to Facebook’s more open approach appeared to be positive. “The idea that a major company like Facebook would give its users a vote in how the service is governed is remarkable,” user Julius Harper, co-founding administrator of the People Against the new Terms of Service group, said in a statement posted on Facebook. “This decision should go far in restoring people’s trust, and I hope it sets a precedent for other online services to follow.” But other members had concerns about section 2.3 of the proposed statement of rights and responsibilities, which states that users will grant Facebook license “to use, copy, publicly perform or display, distribute, modify, translate, and create derivative works of … any content you post” until a member deletes the content or closes an account.

“This is precisely why I pulled one of my photos and why I’m now considering the deletion of my account,” Bertha Chambers of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, wrote in a Facebook post Thursday afternoon. “If Facebook wants to make money through advertising … that’s fine with me. BUT, I’m not giving Facebook permission to use my words or my art for their profit or in ways or reasons that I might not personally support.”