Terms of use: Social Web bill of rights?

It's a big headache, Facebook's experiment in folding users' input into updating its terms of use, but so is democracy! And by definition – as a user-driven or -produced medium – Web 2.0 is more democratic than any that preceded it. Revising terms of service in this participatory way actually makes them relevant. I wonder why it has taken so long to get here, actually (maybe partly because all eyes were directed to predators by politicians and the news media, with the relentless message that it's entirely up to these social-media companies, like their mass-media predecessors, to control the content they "broadcast"). Now, as my ConnectSafely.org co-director Larry Magid wrote in CNET, Facebook's "officials seem to be trying to figure out what it means to run a company where users, not professionals, provide most of the content. In some senses, Facebook is a media company but unlike newspapers, TV networks and even most blogs, its contributors aren't employees or contractors. It's those 175 million members." Terms of use can no longer viably be written entirely by corporate lawyers "for other lawyers, in the hope that their lengthy recitation of claims leaves no room for a lawsuit," as the Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro put it. Nor can Facebook afford simply to "grind" users' reactions and edits to its proposed user "bill of rights" "into the usual legalistic sludge." Pegararo suggests Facebook should put its draft in a wiki that users can edit as in Wikipedia. The only problem is, Wikipedia doesn't need the input of corporate lawyers on its "encyclopedia" entries. The other problem is what adequate representation is for Facebook's 175 million "citizens." If more than 7,000 people comment on a new policy, Larry Magid points out, "the policy will be put to a vote and the result 'will be binding if more than 30% of all active registered users vote." Thirty percent of 175 million is 53 million. This will be an amazing experiment indeed if that many people vote! In any case, this is a great discussion to be having – it's important to make terms of use relevant. [Here's a transcript of Facebook's 2/26 press conference on this at CNET.]

Leave a comment