Facebook Terms of Use: Media Hype or User Panic?

Recently, there was quite some media buzz and chatter amongst the bloggers about Facebook’s updated Terms of Use. This led many Facebook users to question their privacy and rights on the website. Was the effect of these concerns far reaching, or was this simply a case of media hysteria? Let’s begin by looking at a timeline of events.

This latest Facebook saga began on February 4th, when Facebook updated its Terms of Use to state that Facebook was granted licensing rights to content published by its users on the Facebook domain, even in the event of a user deactivating their account. Future politicians of the world trembled at the thought of their past online identity coming back to haunt them: How would they ever explain those college photos displaying them in an inebriated state? By mid-month the story had picked up steam in the wake of media coverage and privacy advocate backlash, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg was forced to respond publicly to the growing concerns on February 16th, using the Facebook blog. Two days after his response, Facebook reverted their Terms of Use and once again gave ownership of the published content (all those pictures and videos) back to the Facebook user. To go a step further, on February 26th, Facebook published two new governing documents on Proposed Facebook Principles and Proposed Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. However, as of the end of February, not many people were taking the time to read these proposals — less than 0.2% of the Facebook population.

So, where did the Facebook user fit into this ordeal? Did Joe College or my office cube mate really care? I would say they did.

During the period of time where media coverage was at its height, and Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg responded to the growing concerns, Facebook users were taking the time to read the Term’s of Use. In fact, traffic to this part of the site grew 237% W-O-W.

The chart above shows the weekly unique volume of Facebook users reading the Terms of Use. And while the change in Terms occurred in the 2nd week depicted in the chart (2/1-2/7), the spike in volume happened during that third week of February — which makes sense because this is when the media grabbed the story. And I’m willing to bet that anyone reading this blog had at least one friend in their network tweet about this or publish a story on their Facebook wall.

The negativity also seemed, for a short while anyways, to have an ill effect on the number of deactivations of Facebook accounts. Facebook users who began the deactivation process grew 35% W-O-W in this same week in February (2/15 — 2/21) — the week that captured all the buzz. This accounted for 0.5% of all Facebook users, up 30% from the week prior.

After the Terms of Use were restored to the users’ (and media’s) liking, behavior seemed to return to normal. This indicates that while it did attract some attention, this event did not seem to soil either Facebook’s image or its continued growth in the space. When all was said and done: High School kids went on gossiping; College kids went on posting party pics; Mom’s continued stalking their children. All was right in Facebook world.

Categories: Social

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