What happens when you hold a referendum and 87 per cent of voters reject the motion? If you were a government, or even a normal corporation, the motion would not be carried – but it seems that if you’re Facebook you can just ignore your members and do whatever you like. So much for ‘social’ democracy!

What is even more concerning is that the referendum was about stripping Facebook users of the power to endorse or reject policy changes through popular vote, just like the one they ignored anyway.  Even though it was opposed by a majority of voters, all 668,125 of them, it wasn’t enough, percentage-wise, to be passed. You see, Facebook set some ground rules before the poll that if fewer than 30 per cent of Facebook’s 1 billion users voted it would be free to go forward with a plan to eliminate the voting structure altogether and integrate recently-purchased Instagram’s data for advertising purposes.

I’m smelling fish here. For a start, I can’t recall receiving any notification as a Facebook user about this poll, or its importance. If I had known the consequences I would surely have voted against the bill. I wonder how many of the other 999,331,874 Facebook users that didn’t vote had the same experience as me.

So, along with an overhaul of privacy and other policies, this monumental event has became the last binding referendum of its kind at the huge social network. That’s assuming it can still call itself a social network after exhibiting such non-social behaviour. Since its under-whelming public listing, Facebook appears to be doing its best to transform itself into the ugliest of corporations by revoking its users’ rights to privacy and monetizing everything it possibly can.

Of course, that’s what its shareholders expect, but not all its users are shareholders, and since its valuation was based on the number of users it would be fair to say that they were its prime assets. Seems a funny way to manage your assets.

An AFP report suggests that, according to privacy rights groups, the changes will make it easier for advertisers and others to send messages on Facebook, limiting users’ control. Activists have raised a ruckus, saying the new policies, if implemented, could violate some laws or Facebook’s agreement with US regulators earlier this year after complaints from privacy groups. But it raises the question of who actually regulates social networks and who protects the users?

Despite its original social ideals, Facebook is fast becoming the antithesis of what it set out to be. Is this is a life cycle we can expect from all social networks that aspire to corporate greatness? I suspect that Facebook users will eventually become disillusioned with its direction, get annoyed by its attempts to extract revenues from them or fear that their privacy is being compromised and sold on. And there will be no shortage of options to move to.

Like MySpace before it, Facebook may find that its biggest challenge will be to remain popular, even relevant, to its users after corporatization takes hold. The digital services world may not be all that different from the corporate and communications services worlds after all!

First published at TM Forum as The Insider, 11 December, 2012