Internet democratized the world like never before. Now, it seems internet will have its own version of democratic nation states too. The United Friends of Facebook, with more than 500 million users, will be the second largest democracy in the world, next only to the billionaire India.
If Google counts every user – and eBay, every buyer – as a citizen, we will have a whole new global demographic. Like all things online, the interests, affiliations and goals of these groups will be knit tighter than what their nation states may dictate. It is important to note that online communities actually invoke a passion that nation states were intended to do when they were formed hundreds of years (disputed! disputed!) before.
The clash between these affiliations has already started, in some way or the other, in some or other parts of the world. The revolution in Egypt, and to a lesser extent in other countries of the Middle East, was kept alive by the active online communities. It proved crucial in the end. In China, the Party and the people clash less in the streets and more across the forums online. The party doesn’t have to send tanks anymore; it sends viruses to take servers down.
So what’s the next step for these online democracies? Send their own representatives to countries. Google did it in 2006. Facebook is doing it now. It is preparing a foreign service that will do what is generally done by ambassadors. If you are one of those with unrealized Foreign Service dreams, you can give it a second chance here.
Though MNCs have long been pressuring governments, lobbying for special considerations and appointing envoys for deal making, such strategic and extensive diplomatic exercise has been unprecedented in corporate peace time.
May be, this is a really aggressive form of PR exercise or ground work for future lobbying. Is it even significant enough to be discussed by us busybodies?
Yes, it is. This is not some random initiative by some insignificant company. This is Facebook reaching out global heads of states directly as a unique entity which is not tied down by national boundaries. And that is new. Remember, Google had to leave China when it refused to fall in line. It has not been able to penetrate Russia, where Yandex has some sort of a monopoly.
Google’s policy was simple – offer a service which is needed by a large number of people, keep it simple, make it better than the rest and serve it free. This will build a user base large enough to be self-sustaining and powerful enough to bypass governments. Clearly that has not worked as neatly as expected.
No matter how flat the virtual world is, the real world is still round, has borders and is ruled by unreasonable governments. Facebook realizes that. While it can afford not to be present in a few countries, it has bigger dreams. It is not looking for access, it is looking for partnerships. It is forcing governments in a twisted way to recognize that Facebook is significant enough to be treated in a one-on-one manner.
I have no idea where this will lead. Facebook may become the voice of the government in case of a rebellion or it may recognize a country that no one else does. But why think so evil? It may also create apps for governments to make better sense of public opinion before it rolls out any major policy changes, and closely monitor it after it has done so. If all goes well, it may actually help in creating more aware and responsive governments.