Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

If Facebook hosted a constitutional convention

May 21, 2012 by Scott Bomboy


Is Facebook bigger than the Constitution? In some ways, the social network already is, but it may not be big enough to host a constitutional convention.


The New York Times’ Nick Bilton pointed out last week that Facebook’s much criticized privacy agreement is now longer than the U.S. Constitution, clocking in at 5,830 words, or more than 1,000 words longer than the document created in 1787.


Iceland's parliament

Facebook, with its 150 million U.S.-based members, may not be the best way to get Americans involved in organizing changes to the Constitution, if that became needed due to popular demand.


And in fact, the United States wouldn’t even be the first country to use Facebook to write a new constitution from scratch—that honor goes to Iceland.


Iceland decided to use Facebook last year to draft a sweeping set of constitutional changes, to be put to a national vote in June 2012. The island nation was deeply affected by the 2008 global economic downturn and decided to write a new constitution that wasn’t based on Denmark’s.


A team of 25 people was elected to write the constitution, and they used Facebook, augmented by Twitter and other online tools, to draft the new document. It was submitted in July 2011 to Iceland’s parliament.

Teacher’s corner

Could schools also utilize social networks as an instructional tool for writing their own constitutions?  What are the legal guidelines for students and faculty conversing on-line? Here is a lesson plan resource developed by the National Constitution Center to help facilitate such a conversation.


And that is where the document still sits.


According to reports, the parliament in Iceland couldn’t agree on details within the draft and missed a March deadline to get the referendum on the June 2012 ballot.


Iceland has six parties in its parliament and coverage of the debate included reports of heckling among lawmakers and general disagreement—the kind of “feedback” that can’t be duplicated online.


Iceland has a population of 317,000 people, so imagine the logistics of coordinating an online U.S. constitutional convention.


In the United States, 34 states need to call a national convention and 38 states need to agree on proposed changes to the Constitution—a tall order, indeed.


Back in 1787, the original Constitutional Convention delegates met for the summer in Philadelphia, locked themselves in the State House and blocked all newspapers from reporting the event. And delegates were sworn to secrecy.


So they didn’t have to deal with the problem of Alexander Hamilton in a Twitter war with George Mason, or Ben Franklin’s iPhone interrupting sessions with instant-message ring tones.


Today, convention delegates would need to figure out Facebook’s new timeline feature and its complicated privacy policy before they even got to the Facebook comments on their fan pages.


And then delegates would have to take all that online feedback and introduce it into a public face-to-face debate, simultaneously at 38 state conventions, while being covered by C-SPAN.


The odds seem better for Iceland passing its constitution first.


We’ll keep you updated on events there, and any news on that postponed referendum.


Scott Bomboy is the editor-in-chief of Constitution Daily.


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