John Locke (not the character from Lost, the one from the 17th century with hair) is considered one of the fathers of modern political theory. In his Second Treatise of Government he argues that governments form when humans agree to leave behind the absolute freedoms found in the state of nature in order to harness the benefits of a collective society. They comply to follow common rules in order to remain safe and to prosper. If they decide that they don’t like how things are going, they can either revolt, or leave.
Does any of that remind you of Facebook? Me neither, but that was the hot topic among technology journalists these past few weeks. Not one, not two (stop me before I go LeBron on you) but three major publications all published articles which in some way argued that Facebook is becoming a worldwide government.
Do these articles foreshadow an imminent international Luddite movement? Are these journalists eloquently encapsulating a growing anxiety, that we are voluntarily manufacturing a 1984-style dystopia by signing our rights away to a corporation? Is there a real chance that in a few short years we will refer to him as Emperor Zuckerburg?
Again, I don’t think so. I simply see another case of journalists capitalizing on a hot trend. This is no different than everyone suddenly writing about BYOD at the same time. Listen all you conspiracy theorists- Facebook’s goal is to make money. Zuck doesn’t want to wear a crown. He’s already got a hoodie (albeit one that can be gold-pleated a million times over). Their business strategy entails getting a lot of members and selling their data, and despite what the current state of their IPO might show, they’re actually pretty good at it.
The Atlantic’s article on the matter describes Facebook as a sort of benevolent technocracy. Incorporating a similar argument to what my colleague Doug Flora wrote about yesterday, people never get to vote on changes, but there is a set of rules in place which govern aspects of the social network such as censorship and reporting. That’s all fine, but it does not therefore make Facebook a government. I remember being able to “report” and “warn” people on AOL Instant Messenger back when I was 13. It’s all about making your online experience as pleasant as possible so that you come back, making their platform all that more valuable to advertisers.
To be a government you have to provide citizens with certain benefits that they would not be able to get on their own. Locke saw those benefits as being safety, security and prosperity, echoed in the U.S. Constitution as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Does Facebook really offer any of those things? No, at least not yet. So if you come across any more of these articles positing that Facebook is the realization of our worst dystopian nightmares, enjoy it for what it is: another hot angle in technology media.
Image courtesy of Textually.org