Now that Facebook has 500 million users, on a pure population count it's bigger than many countries, including the U.S. Also like a country, it must manage complex legal and civil rights issues. It even goes to war--after a fashion. This leads The Economist to ask: Is Facebook a sovereign country? "In some ways, it might seem absurd," they admit, solemnly noting Facebook's lack of "land ... police ... subjects ... a clear cluster of rights, obligations and cultural signals ... and 'electorate.'" And yet:
[M]any web-watchers do detect country-like features in Facebook. "[It] is a device that allows people to get together and control their own destiny, much like a nation-state," says David Post, a law professor at Temple University. If that sounds like a flattering description of Facebook’s "groups" (often rallying people with whimsical fads and aversions), then it is worth recalling a classic definition of the modern nation-state. As Benedict Anderson, a political scientist, put it, such polities are "imagined communities" in which each person feels a bond with millions of anonymous fellow-citizens. In centuries past, people looked up to kings or bishops; but in an age of mass literacy and printing in vernacular languages, so Mr Anderson argued, horizontal ties matter more.
The Economist further points out that Facebook, like any country, "needs governing" in the form of policy and a give-and-take with the populace. Facebook even engages in "diplomacy" with actual, formal countries, most notably China. But Facebook also has a good relationship with Great Britain, where Prime Minister David Cameron has extended strikingly diplomatic outreach to Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg.
All of this raises an obvious question. If Facebook is already an effective independent nation-state, should they just go ahead and declare their sovereignty? Sitting on the United Nations Security Council would certainly give Facebook some leverage over its ongoing conflict with MySpace.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.