Running Facebook contests: Are voting exchanges appropriate?


Due to the vast amount of Facebook users, estimated to reach one billion in 2012, many commercial enterprises have taken to Facebook to advertise and to solicit customer feedback. Running contests is a classic method of advertisement, awarding nominal prizes to a few lucky people and spreading consumer awareness to a much larger pool of potential customers.

Because of the great deal of interactivity for which Facebook allows, contests have become quite popular, with winners often being picked via a crowd-sourced vote, where users have the option to pick among a pool of candidates to win. Prominent among crowd-sourced promotions on Facebook include Maybelline’s “Show Us Your Red Lips”, Coca-Cola’s “The Recycling King”, “The Funniest Classified Ad on Blocket”, and contests for Lay’s potato chips and Sam Adams beer.

Unsurprisingly, users have found methods of essentially rigging the ballot box.

A Facebook voting exchange occurs when someone offers to vote for someone in a contest in exchange for a vote for themselves in another contest. Because one users vote may not necessarily make a difference, several online groups have been set up to create mass exchanges, giving a user access to a larger pool of potential voters, so long as they promise to vote for those users in contests they may enter.

Voting exchanges operate openly within the Facebook community, and they. What is looked down upon, even by active vote exchangers, is when a single person creates multiple user accounts to allow them to have more votes. These users have the option to exchange mass votes. Evidently some users have taken the time to create hundreds of accounts for themselves, and though they will have to log in and out for each individual vote, they now possess to ability to vote for themselves hundreds of times, and offer these votes in exchange to people who vote for them. Maintaining multiple accounts is not allowed by Facebook’s “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” and is therefore a violation of its user policy as well as being what is deemed to be cheating, even among those that actively take part in these vote exchanges.

There is nothing in Facebook’s terms that explicitly prohibit the use of a Voter Exchange Board.  However, some of its provisions arguably prohibit them, and certainly frown upon their use.

The “Safety” provision states that “You will not post unauthorized commercial communications (such as spam) on Facebook.” While agreements to vote for one another is not “spam”, it could be construed as an unauthorized commercial communication, as both parties stand to gain from the transaction. However, many of these exchanges are done outside of Facebook, and therefore are not subject to this rule. The next provision under the “Safety” subheading of interest states “You will not use Facebook to do anything unlawful, misleading, malicious or discriminatory.” While the use of Voter Exchange is not unlawful, malicious or discriminatory, it is arguably misleading. Misleading is not defined under the “Definitions” section of the user agreement and it is therefore debatable as to its actual definition in this case.

The “Registration and Account Security” provision provides that “You will not use your personal timeline for your own commercial gain (such as selling your status update to an advertiser).”

The “timeline” has replaced many Facebook users standard page, and to many, has come to be synonymous with one’s Facebook account.  Once again, the “Definitions” section does not define what a somewhat ambiguous term (though much less ambiguous than misleading) actually means in this context.

Finally, the “Termination” section states that “If you violate the letter or spirit of this statement, or otherwise create risk of possible legal exposure for us, we can stop providing all or part of Facebook to you.”  Thus, the use of voting group exchanges may be considered a violation of Facebook’s terms, because it is commercial activity that has not been sanctioned by Facebook.

It should also be noted that there are separate sections containing terms for advertisement and promotions, but both sections are aimed at the advertiser/promoter rather than the user/voter.

In conclusion, Voting Exchange Boards are technically not a violation of terms, but do exist in something of a grey area at the moment. The issue is whether you (as a Facebook advertiser) want to be associated with these exchanges, and how you can block their usage during contests that you promote.

© Copyright Paul Rubell 2012. All rights are reserved.

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