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Category: Government

Facebook and the Obsolescence of Nation States?

A picture from the current UN summit in NYC struck me as very interesting, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a conversation with German chancellor Angela Merkel. And the topic they discussed? According to Spiegel Online they were talking about hate postings and how Facebook is dealing with them.

Just to bring you on the same level: Germany and Austria both have laws that forbid the denial of the holocaust and the use of Nazi-symbols (like the Swastika or the Führergruß). Due to our countries’  historic burden, it’s illegal there, but legal in the US. But both viewpoints have some truth and correctness in them.

In the past weeks the refugee crisis that has swamped Europe, and especially Greece, Hungary, Austria, and Germany, right-wingers have shown their ugliest face not only by a lot of arson cases in homes for refugees, but by also expressing their hatred on social media platforms such as Facebook. And Facebook has been accused of swiftly deleting pictures of nudity but not of hate speech.

With over one billion active daily users Facebook has reached a worldwide ubiquity as a tool to connect people and express ideas that has made it impossible to ignore.Governments are struggling with how to apply state laws to such global platforms. On the one hand hate speech is illegal under many countries’ laws, but then Facebook being a US-based company is following the free speech doctrine. And it’s not a black&white case. While Germany may have good reasons to limit free speech, so do other countries think – countries which we may not think as democratic as Germany.

How does Facebook deal with this? Mark Zuckerberg seems to understand that Facebook is more than just a social media platform. Facebook needs creates policies that go beyond the usual terms of use. Facebook needs something that more resembles laws on a variety of areas. Speech is one of them, dealing with data another one, cooperating with authorities, fraudulent behaviors that go across countries. Facebook’s strength is that they can act faster than official organizations, especially when cross-country activities are targeted.

But the big drawback is that Facebook is not an elected governing body. It’s not a democracy. It’s a corporation with an admittedly very thoughtful and emphatic CEO. But would we need it to turn into more a policy-making entity such as a democracy? Maybe not. Maybe the role is a different one. Observing how global platforms such as Facebook are dealing with such topics is an interesting development that gives a glimpse in how nation states and their rules are becoming less important or maybe different. What state leaders cannot figure out or are not able to implement, organizations such as Facebook may be the ones leading the way.

We have seen the Pope and the Chinese president visiting the US this week. But the fact that Mark Zuckerberg is at the UN meeting as a guest speaks volumes of a different tone. And that’s not the only state-meeting that Zuckerberg had this week. He also met the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi during his Silicon Valley visit. Given that nation states are an invention of only the last 150+ years, we seem to witness the beginnings of their obsolescence. Interesting times…