According to latest reports total Facebook users has surpassed 1.4 billion mark, which is more than the most populous country China’s population (1.4 billion). So now the question is that what it signifies? Is Facebook on verge of becoming a virtual state (country) or is it already been one? To answer this, first we have to look into what a state constitutes & what are the basic parameters required for becoming a state.
Traditionally, there are four essentials for state namely Population, territory, government and sovereignty. Let us look into all of these individually.
- Population: Facebook has more than 1.4 billion users who interact among them in virtual world. Just like in real world each Facebook user has its own set of friends, associated with some communities, share its views, forms an opinion, entertain itself and do lots of other stuffs. So obviously Facebook fulfills the first criteria.
- Territory: Each state requires a territory where it holds its population, without territory there couldn’t be any state. At first stance it seems like Facebook doesn’t hold a territory which in fact is not true, Facebook occupies a virtual space. Just like any other site on internet it too occupies a space and this space exists scientifically and legally. So second criteria too is fulfilled.
- Government: According to Aristotle, there are six types of government based on number of rulers and purpose of rule. If the purpose of rule is in the interest of people then government could be monarchy (one ruler) or aristocracy (few rulers) or polity (many rulers) & if it is for anti interest of people then government could be tyranny (one ruler) or oligarchy (few rulers) or democracy (many rulers). So purpose of Facebook is in interest of people and Mark Zuckerberg (owner of Facebook) could be branded as a monarch. So third criteria too is fulfilled.
- Sovereignty: It means power of state to act freely without any interference. Though in present globalized world concept of sovereignty has been largely eroded for the sake of collective interests or for the economy sake or for both but still it exists. Sovereignty has two dimensions: internal and external, internal means free to act in domestic affairs and external means free to act in international/ external affairs. Facebook could legally exercise these based on its privacy policies and hold over all the users’ accounts. So fourth criteria is also fulfilled.
Apart from these basic parameters, there are some other criteria like revenue earning & own security personnel . Facebook earned around US $ 18 billion as revenue from 2007-2015 through its various sources like advertising, games, gift shops, Facebook credits & some other sources.Security personnel also has two dimensions: internal and external, external is taken care by defense forces and internal by police forces. In case of Facebook it has regulatory authority which acts based on user’s complaints against any other user, and, to prevent itself from cyber attacks, Facebook has its own force of cyber security specialists. So we could easily conclude that right now we are witnessing evolution of a new kind of state, a state in a virtual world which is interlinked with the real world and it is here to stay for a very, very long time.
So now, the next crucial question is what implications Facebook (online world) as a virtual state has on society? Under ideal situation, Facebook helps us in maintaining contacts with friends, sharing one’s views, photos, videos, becoming a part of some cause, helps in becoming a global citizen, or in short we can say it can make our lives a bit easy. But life is not bed of roses. As we all know virtual world is connected with the real world, human is what they think and this human exists in virtual world, in virtual world they could mould their way of thinking, they interact with other users which could be either benevolent or malevolent and when they are in real world then they already have their thinking been modified. In fact all reason behind existence of government, police, defense forces & intelligence agencies in real world also hold very much true for the online world. Just imagine a situation that there is a country where anyone can enter or exit without any visa regulations, where group of people can form a community and has an intention to incite or commit violence, where security for women and children are negligible, where person could be robbed easily, his/her identity could be theft, where trade secrets of companies could be hacked & where murderer could easily evade laws without being identified (refer ‘internet of things’) or a country which is full of anarchy. Such country would be even worse than present day Syria, and it exists right now, right here in ‘online world’. Apart from these in real world we have countries in conflict with each other which are involved in espionage, subversion and sabotage against other countries in both real and virtual space. We are seeing rise of Islamic State (Daesh) which is attributed to online world as one of the major factor. Despite all these if a person is asking for complete freedom and privacy in this anarchic online world then he/ she is intentionally or unintentionally committing a crime of being naive.
Online world is going to expand further like our expanding universe and if it is kept unregulated then it has full potential to pose existential threat to our real world just like any other enemy nation-state. In fact rise of virtual state of Facebook led to fall of virtual state of Orkut; just like evolution of state in real world. Facebook is not just one virtual state but we have other also like WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Google+, LinkedIn and others. Keeping online world out-of-bounds of law would be the gravest mistake of 21st century and masses need to understand this, in fact they should demand it and finalize their social contract with online world as soon as possible to end its anarchy and to channel it for betterment of humans. Do we have any other option?