There have been more than a few comments and quips made by pundits on the topic of “if Facebook were a country..” But perhaps, in some ways, it is a bit of a sovereign state, a Cyber State if you will. And the latest rumbles around Facebook deleting or censuring Syrian opposition groups brings out some further questions around the actions of a Cyber State. So what are some of the characteristics of a sovereign Cyber State like Facebook? When does a social media channel that was created simply to be a business, suddenly take on state-like characteristics? And what channels other than Facebook are taking on those characteristics?
Characteristics of a Cyber State?
We posit these for discussion/debate. More research will be needed to place a more defined set of characteristics. These are the characteristics we use within the think-tank to define when a social media channel takes on state-like characteristics.
International Reach: The channel reaches and is used in multiple countries (regional or global) and has diaspora communities and is multi-lingual.
Sole Right of Terms: The channel has a developed set of terms and conditions that give it the sole discretionary power in regards to the type of content placed there, acceptable and unacceptable behaviours, in it’s sole view (i.e. governing body such as a parliament, but unelected by civil society, establishing it’s own rule-of-law.)
Resources to Monitor and Act on Threats: The channel has available resources (human and technology) to monitor activities on it’s platform and take action such as deleting, blocking or suspending use it deems violates it’s terms of service (i.e. state police, justice system.)
Operates Defence & Security Systems: The channel has active, dedicated resources to defend it’s digital frontier (e.g. against hackers or theft etc.) and can take unilateral action against those types of dangers electronically or through legal means in any international court (i.e. defence forces/military.)
Controls Access and Engagement: The channel completely controls, through terms of service, when, how and who can access it’s services (i.e. customs and immigration)
Economic System: Has some form of economic system by which it can operate (subscriptions, advertising etc.) to provide “free” service. In that the cost to the user is to a)provide personal information that can be used to sell advertising b) provide sufficient information for the channel to establish social network connections, again for economic gain of the channel, not the user.
Based on these characteristics we define the following social media channels as “Cyber States”: Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Tumblr, WordPress (community), Blogger (maybe the Google ecosystem?). Facebook is the largest of these Cyber States, followed by Twitter and Google. There are some more regional Cyber States, but we’ll leave that for another post.
The Mitigating Factors
For the most powerful of these Cyber States, they are based out of America. They can of course, be shut down by the real government, or regulations be put in place to control them. But this is fairly extreme and before that happens, a lot of damage can take place. Shutting out activist groups is not uncommon for Facebook. They simply deem the content inappropriate or violating their terms of service and block them. Twitter has been more open in this regard, but is not innocent.
So what do you think? What would you add or how might you define a “Cyber State”?