It is not a moment too soon to start the hard work of transforming Facebook – or some avatar of Facebook – into a platform for participatory democratic global governance. We don’t have long to design a global response to the crisis of climate change through meaningful coordination of humanity’s actions; the institutions we assumed would respond to that global challenge have failed miserably.
Excerpted from Emanuel Pastreich:
“Facebook has become a critical platform for international exchange that allows people around the world to seek out peers with similar interests and to begin serious exchanges with them about how to create a better world. Although Facebook is a for-profit organization that treats its users as potential advertisers and uses personal information gathered from postings as a private commodity for sale to third parties, nevertheless Facebook is still the best means to reach out to a broad audience and to develop a global audience.
Facebook was not intended for serious intellectual and political exchange. At present, you cannot easily seek out other people with common interests (or by region) using a search on Facebook and you cannot systematically store the materials that you send or receive through Facebook for easy reference. Information posted is designed to essentially disappear within a few days. In addition, there is no way for third parties to develop original apps to run on Facebook that would allow users to expand its functionality or customize their pages. There are many ways that those actually using Facebook can carry out the innovations necessary to make it a meaningful means of sharing information.
But in spite of all the limitations of Facebook, an increasing number of politically conscious users are pushing it to be a platform for profound debate on political and social issues, both locally or internationally, Even in its primitive current format, Facebook offers the possibility for a broad conversation with thoughtful individuals around the world and it is increasingly populated by individuals from developing nations, and thoughtful activists, who may even be middle school or high school students. That is to say, although it may not have been designed for that purpose, Facebook offers an opportunity for people who are completely locked out of the policy debate to contribute. Although there are specialized platforms for internet exchange available, Facebook is unique in cutting across class lines and international borders.
If we compare Facebook in terms of the potential for an individual to advocate for policy, develop a broad base of support on issues and seek out expert opinion, Facebook in its primitive current form is still years ahead of the United Nations, the World Bank, OECD or any of the international organizations supposedly engaged in global governance. Although those international organizations carry out their own informed internal debate, which is then distributed in a one-way manner to the hoi polloi via rather arcane technical texts, there is literally no means for someone like me, let alone a Nigerian merchant or a Chinese high school student, to have any say at all on policies those organizations put forth that impact the entire world.”
How does Emanuel Pastreich propose to do this ?
“The first step is to present a concrete vision for the future of social networks as a form of global governance and for the importance of that vision for the daily lives of the users of online social networking services like Facebook. That vision should include basis rules of governance first for how Facebook (I use Facebook here as a term for social networks in general, both contemporary and future) will be governed internally: how individual users can debate what the policy for Facebook at the micro and macro level should be and proceed to propose that policy for approval within the Facebook community.
The governance of Facebook starts with reforms that make it more accessible, more transparent, and more oriented to the needs of individuals and communities. We can start with simple reforms like allowing individuals to design applications on their own within Facebook and have the right to give or sell them on their own to other members.
That process could involve the formation of local elected communities for debating and determining local and global Facebook policy. Unlike the United States government, Facebook can serve as a place for input concerning policy and voting to approve that policy. We must recognize that Facebook is potentially a political entity (and already serves that role) and endow it with the proper functions to serve that purpose locally and globally.
Once internal rules are in place for how Facebook governs itself, the next step will be for Facebook to create structures for larger forms of global governance. Of course Facebook does not have offices or anything like the resources of a government, and perhaps it does not require them. At the same time, we must remember that governments around the world are hollowing out at a rapid pace these days and are not serving the function of governance.
The nature of governance in a future “Republic of Facebook” cannot be dictated in this article; it must be worked out through a series of meetings between informed and visionary figures who are committed to building a better world. We can imagine something like a constitutional convention for Facebook that would do that initial work of setting forth a vision and following up with continued refinements.”