What is it?
In 2009, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook would be governing its site in a more ‘open and transparent’ manner. To carry this out, the Facebook Site Governance page was created as a space where users would be updated about policies and invited to comment and vote on proposed changes.
The study examined Facebook’s use of the Site Governance page, the experience of Facebook users in light of this, and overall outcomes.
Why is it interesting?
The idea for the study was triggered by the results of the most recent call for participation in December 2012. Although more than 660,000 people participated in the voting process, this was nowhere near the threshold of 30% of the total Facebook population, which is needed in order for users’ input to be more than ‘advisory’.
With this research, I wanted to look at this participation rate in the context of what Facebook is providing to its users as well as how users view their role in relation to the site.
What did I find?
After content and discourse analysis of 26 materials collected from Facebook and 6 e-mail interviews with users who had ‘liked’ the Site Governance Page, here is the abstract from the resulting paper that I submitted for my Advanced Qualitative Analysis course at the Oxford Internet Institute:
Become a fan: A case study of the Facebook Site Governance page and processes
This case study examines Facebook’s Site Governance page and processes to develop greater understanding of the relationship between users and companies that provide online platforms for social production. This is carried out through collection and analysis of textual and audio-visual materials produced by Facebook in relation to the Site Governance page as well as e-mail interviews with users who subscribed to the page and participated in voting processes. The results demonstrate that while Facebook perpetuated discourses of participatory governance, it also maintained tight control over its policies. Users’ awareness of the power imbalance and limits on the effectiveness of the voting system negatively shaped their overall representations of Facebook, thereby delegitimating the company’s democratic discourses and drawing into question its authority. These findings have relevance for future research relating to governance strategies in the online economy.
Keywords: Participatory governance, legitimation, hybrid economy, social networking sites
Tl;dr: Facebook needs a new model of governance that recognizes its reliance on user-created content and it might even have to treat users as having some ownership in the company instead of talking down to them simply as consumers.
Feel free to contact me if you’d like to read the whole paper or to discuss the topic further. Here’s a nifty image summarizing the outcomes of my qualitative analysis (made with Lucidchart):