In a new essay from pioneering cyberlaw scholars David R. Johnson, David Post, and Marc Rotenberg entitled Governing Online Spaces, they argue that Facebook would benefit from user participation albeit not from the system the company once proposed. Earlier Facebook promised to forego policy changes that received comments from thirty percent or more of its users. Thirty percent of a billion people????
Clearly, that was an unworkable idea for governing. However, bringing democracy to Facebook is long overdue. Because of its size Facebook is both "platform and polity," they contend. Users cannot simply vote with their feet and pick another product when Facebook is essentially the only game in town. It is more state than a store. User engagement (aka Voice) will help avoid defection (aka Exit) and promote stickiness (aka Loyalty). Doing well by doing good.
Instead of one-profile-one-vote, they want Facebeook to implement a system of "virtual representation, whereby every user would be given the ability to grant a proxy to anyone who has volunteered to act on his/her behalf in policy discussions with Facebook management." In other words, they want representative not direct democracy for the world's largest social network.
The devil is in the details, of course, of course of how the app would work. Given that each person only knows 150 people well, would proxy voting only minimally cut down on the number of voters and render the system unmanageable? Would there need to be campaigns and how would those be governed to avoid manipulation or just plain old unpleasantness? And regardless of the voting structure would the company abide by user decisions? Would it even allow a vote on things that genuinely matter?
Wouldn't it be great to find out? Precisely because of its size and the relative limits on opportunities for participation, Facebook offers a testing ground with many similarities to our existing political culture and institutions. This is an extraordinary opportunity to road test different models of governance including a variety of different styles of proxy voting.
If Facebook were willing, what would you have them try?