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Facebook gives users a chance to govern the site

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Facebook wants to give users more transparency. Credit: Andrew Feinberg via Flickr.

The Facebook nation is getting its very own democracy.

After last week’s flap over vague statements implying that Facebook would keep users’ personal data even after they closed their accounts, the company today said it would allow users to help govern the site. Interested community members will be invited to review, comment and vote on these kinds of documents in the future, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said.

‘This is really about us trusting our users,’ Zuckerberg said in a conference call with reporters to discuss the changes.

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The Palo Alto company released draft versions of two new governing documents: ‘The Facebook Principles,’ which it calls ‘a set of values that will guide the development of the service,’ and the ‘Statement of Rights & Responsibilities,’ which emphasizes that users own their content on the site and that Facebook cannot use it once they quit the service.

‘We do not own user data, they own their own data,’ Zuckerberg said. ‘We never really intended to give a different impression, and we feel bad that we did.’

The governing process of Facebook includes virtual town halls, where users can comment on the changes, and a user summary of some of the comments received.

Users can begin voting now on the draft Statement of Rights & Responsibilities. If they are approved (and if more than 30% of the community participates), all future policy changes will be eligible for a vote by users, ‘provided the level of intensity of user interest would justify it.’

The company also intends to establish a user council, comprised of ‘authors of the most insightful and constructive comments on the draft documents,’ that will help develop and discuss other policies and practices.

Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s vice president of communications and public policy, said the company has learned through this controversy -- as well as those over its Beacon ad technology and ‘news-feed’ activity tracking -- that users are very interested in being involved in crafting policies.

‘Part of the big lesson here is that we really underestimated the sense of ownership Facebook users feel over the site,’ he said.

-- Alana Semuels


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