Claim: Facebook Privacy Policy is Longer than U.S. Constitution

Background: Facebook has experienced some rather negative press so far this year with regards to privacy concerns. At the apex, the newspapers began harping on the complexity of Facebook’s privacy settings, and noted that the privacy policy had grown longer than even the U.S. Constitution. The NYTimes even devoted an infographic to this fact. Other people picked up on this, and now newspapers now routinely use that statement as shorthand for Facebook’s privacy troubles. But is it valid?

While it is true that the total word count of the original U.S. Constitution is about 4,440 (compared to the Facebook policy’s over 5,000), these numbers do not count the subsequent Constitutional amendments, e.g. the Bill of Rights. If added, the word count f the Constitution raises to nearly 7,000. So already, this is a qualified comparison.

The longer-than-the-Constitution claim is intended to connote the degree of legal complexity in the Facebook privacy policy. If the Facebook policy document is longer than the document granting authority for the supreme law of the United States of America, surely the policy doc is overly complex and incomprehensible, right? Well, no. The United States Constitution is the shortest constitution of any country in the world. [source: wikipedia]. Its brevity, in fact, is a source of pride and marvel among constitutional scholars, that something so powerful and so enduring can be kept in a small printed copy in one’s jacket pocket, as the late Senator Byrd did.

Compare that this to state constitutions. (Each state passes its own constitution that dictates the rights, rules, and framework of the state government for the operation of the state. e.g., California recently amended theirs to restrict marriage.) The average State constitution runs at over 23,000 words. Alabama’s has over 300,000 words! (Note, counter-point: a fact-filled discussion of state constitution length.)

As such, as the U.S. Constitution cannot be considered a long document apt for comparison, this is an intellectually dishonest claim, made without consideration of context, and made for sensationalism. A better comparison would have been the length of HIPAA policies, I think. Look, I only nitpick because we are motherfucking adults, capable of thought and reason, who should know better dammit. Be intellectually honest. Consider context. Qualify generously.

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