New Emissary

Facebook Nation?

Facebook is the world’s ‘third biggest nation.’ But can it fight crime and teach governance?

Last week Facebook hit a record-breaking 500 million users, prompting many to dub it the ‘third most populous nation’ in the world.

The Economist covered this news by creating a simple graphic illustrating the idea of Facebook as a country, and suggested in a piece that while it’s clearly not a sovereign state, the social networking site is in many ways ‘beginning to look and act like one.’

While I’m a pretty avid user of the Facebook, I was quite sceptical of this claim, and am still far from believing that ‘liking’ others’ status updates and articles and tending to virtual farms is in any way close to the way we go about our real lives. The idea, in fact, that I could be eligible for a passport for my Facebook membership is absurd.

But admitting first that such a forecast for Facebook ‘still smacks of cyber-fantasy,’ the Economist’s piece does makes a pretty good case for the possibility, mentioning ways in which the social networking forum might already be for regular ‘inhabitants’ a sort of liberal state for them to exist in, where they can regularly ‘air opinions, rally support and right wrongs.’ Furthermore, it argues that the social networking forum has already begun to steer the course of its own online economy, in a fashion not unlike real-life governments who ‘seek to influence economic activity in the real world, through fiscal and monetary policy.’

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And it also throws out the idea that Facebook may thus grow to one day influence how these real world governments manage and execute their own services.

This reminded me of news coming out of the Philippines today that puts Facebook in the role of an honorary unintended hero for aiding in a high-profile murder case. According to news sources, the suspect, 28-year-old Mark Dizon, was arrested by Filipino police forces today in Manila after being identified by several witnesses through his Facebook account, more specifically his profile photo.

Facebook has been shown to influence peoples’ work lives—employees have been fired for making public blunders on the forum and there are warnings of professional reputations being tarnished by too much disclosure online. But this is the first time I’ve heard of Facebook in the region directly affecting a real-world crime case. We’ll see what’s next as it continues as a global presence.

Image: Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg at the  World Economic Forum in 2009. By Robert Scoble.