Facebook Users Get More Say About Site

Facebook-ers spoke up about how their user-generated content is used and Facebook listened.

Now, in response to their concerns that the social networking site is running roughshod over its members’ data, Facebook is making some changes. For starters, users will have more of a say in how Facebook does things.

On a conference call with reporters, CEO Mark Zuckerberg today announced a broad set of guidance principles for the site, as well as a statement of rights and responsibilities that will eventually replace its existing usage agreements for members, developers and advertisers.

In the meantime, Facebook is inviting its users to review the documents and submit comments, a new town-hall type policy that Zuckerberg said the company will use for all major policy decisions going forward, including a forthcoming update to its privacy policy.

“When designing these we wanted to build a set of documents that matched our missions of openness and transparency,” Zuckerberg said. “As time has gone on, we’ve realized openness and transparency isn’t just an end state. It’s also a process and a way of getting there.”

The announcement comes on the heels of a recent dustup over a change in Facebook’s terms of use agreement, which the company had reworded to assert control over all the content on its members’ profile pages, even after they had deleted their account.

Under scathing criticism, Facebook relented and reinstated the previous usage policy, but the firestorm that erupted was reminiscent of previous instances where users have objected to new policies the company has imposed on them.

“We really took last week as a strong signal of how much people cared about Facebook and wanted to be involve in governing it,” Zuckerberg said.

“We try to be as clear as possible that we don’t own user data,” he added. “We never really intended to give that impression, and we feel really bad that we did.”

Zuckerberg stressed that Facebook, which now boasts more than 175 million members, is above all a community. As a hub where people post intimate details of their lives, Facebook should be held to a higher standards of openness when it comes to how it is governed, he said.

In that spirit, Facebook created two groups where users are invited to comment on the principles and the statement of rights and responsibilities.

Zuckerberg said that if there are deep divisions among members on a certain issue, Facebook will allow the community to vote on it.

He was careful to note that the new town-hall style of governance will be limited to Facebook’s policies, and will not generally be used for product development.

In the principles, Facebook codifies high-minded concepts such as the people’s right to own their information, the freedom to connect and a commitment to open platforms and standards.

The ninth principle, “transparency,” states that “Facebook should publicly make available information about its purpose, plans, policies and operations. Facebook should have a town hall process of notice and comment and a system of voting to encourage input and discourse on amendments to these principles or to the rights and responsibilities.”

The rights and responsibilities, available here, are a somewhat lengthier enumeration of the specifics of the site, laying out Facebook’s commitments to its community, and setting the ground rules for users, developera and advertisers on the site.

“It’s a two-sided thing,” Zuckerberg said.

Facebook also plans to set up a user council, inviting the more thoughtful commenters to take a more formal role in the site’s governance.

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