This article is based on the presentation at the Conference "Sovereignty, Public Opinion and Citizenship in the Digital Era: Theoretical and Analytical Insights", course in Cyberspace and International Relations, PhD in Politics, Human Rights and Sustainability, SSSUP, Pisa, Italy, 12/06/2014.



We can divide the social world in four areas:

  1. 1. the International arena, with States as the key players searching for power.
  2. 2. the Transnational dimension, developed after the last wave of globalization, based on multinational corporations (MNCs) searching for economic benefits.
  3. 3. in recent decades, the idea of a global community has risen, helped also by the work of international organizations, NGOs and social networks. These socio-cultural movements stress human rights, the respect and importance of individuals and innovative bottom-up social dynamics included in the concept of governance.
  4. 4. the last dimension is Cyberspace, a completely man-made new common, where all the actors from the other fields behave searching for cyberpower.



  1. The amount of cyberpower managed by cyber-actors depends on knowledge and on the control of the infrastructure and networks. Cyberspace is inherently linked with the other three areas and most of the cyber-actors exercises cyberpower in order to secure their own interests, not exclusively related with the cyberspace.



Two examples could help us to understand this new scenario. The first is Anonymous.



A second example is the Chinese “50 Cents Army”:



But in reality they look more like this:




Facebook as a Market Power.

In this multilayered context, Facebook presents different roles. Facebook is a multinational corporation based in the USA.



This geographical element has essential implications for its global business: the American government imposes its fiscal, commercial and legal system to Facebook’s business.
Moreover, California is almost the only state in the world imposing a privacy legislation declaring that lying about the real identity for online purposes can be prosecuted as a criminal offense.

Facebook can be conceived as a new and powerful Market Power. It creates benefits not only for itself but it offer its structure as a platform for a whole universe of corporations and governments around the world ready to invest in advertisement and content.

In May 2012 and as a consequence of its increasing role in global economy, Facebook arrived to the financial markets. At this point, Facebook’s business has achieved a consolidated image as one of the giants of E-business.



Facebook as a Cyber Civilian Power.

But what is the first, original service offered by Facebook?


Facebook was created to interconnect people around the world, offering a secure, neutral, respectful environment for communication. And thanks to this global connection, people around the world started to know more about others’ life, culture, social patterns, hopes and fears, letting us all perceive how people around the world are imaging a common future. We cannot underestimate the effects of this process of self-knowledge on global community.
From this global perspective, Facebook could be conceived as a kind of Cyber Civilian Power,  empowering people online.




Facebook as a Soft Power in International Arena.

Facebook has an important role as a Soft Power in the international dimension.



And the American government is very interesting in collaborating with Facebook as well as with the other big corporations of the New Economy.




Facebook as a Cyberpanopticon.

The Panopticon is an architectonical structure for institutional buildings conceived by English scientist Thomas Hobbes, designed with an “inspection house” at its centre, from which the manager or staff of the institution are able to watch the inmates, who are stationed around the perimeter. This kind of structure allows a single watchman to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) inmates of an institution without their being able to tell whether they are being watched or not.


Bentham’s original idea was conceived to use it as a prison. Two centuries later, French sociologist Michel Foucault uses it to explain the disciplinary state.


Facebook as a cyberpanopticon represents a huge cyberstructure to collect data. We do not know exactly all the code that is behind the site. But just take into consideration some numbers. In September 2012 (two years ago, that is almost a century in digital terms), Facebook had over one billion active users. Now they are around 1,4 billion. In 2012, Facebook was adding about half a petabyte of data every 24 hours, amounting to about 180 petabytes per year.
There is no technical limitation to collect data, identify and target people, monitor and control behaviours, promote good interactions and preventing the nocive ones.


The cyberpower of Facebook on controlling its own environment is so undisputable that it is able to apply a policy of invisibility of the authority. Facebook doesn't need to be visible to have power on its users, and this invisibility increases the feeling of liberty and order (Disciplinary State). And it also allows the administrator to maintain distance in case of interpersonal conflicts, offering users a diversified lists of options of self-protection and management of conflicts (blocking, report, unfriend, limiting content, etc.), being also able to apply in an arbitrary way, social sanctions (from cancel a message to eliminate a person from the network).
Its function as a collector of global data enforces Facebook’s role as a Soft Power and as a Market Power. In fact, corporations all around the world are needed of the information obtained freely by Facebook about their potential clients’ .



The Ultimate Challenge for Facebook. Other risks.
Facebook's cyberpower is limited by the respect of privacy and neutrality in relation with its users.
So it is essential for the future success of Facebook to maintain an adequate counterbalance between the CyberPanopticon –the technical capabilities- and the Cyber Civilian Power –the social prestige.
This is the main political challenge for Facebook.


But there are other risks that Facebook has to deal with:
- the individualist structure (essential in terms of cyberpower) could work as an obstacle for social aggregation - Facebook is not a cyber agora.
- the still problem of language: related to Balcanization.
- the extreme power of cyberpanopticon: remember the discussions about the Facebook experiment on users’ feed.
- the natural evolution of internet: the existence of any global big site is around 10 years and then it suffers from a quickly disappearance (remember ICQ or MSN Messenger?), then what? Nowadays, many youngsters are migrating from Facebook to Instagram to avoid parents’ surveillance. So the risks here are two: the race to innovation in order to defeat new competitor and the efforts to maintain the environment secure and attractive.
- Risk of Balcanization: every State in the world would like to have its own facebook structure. In fact, if we see the map of the evolution of social networking sites, we could see there are many attempts to do it. Notwithstanding this, it seems to develop just in the opposite way (more centripetous than centrifugous forces). A balkanization of social networking sites’ environment is a serious risk for whole cyberspace in terms of neutrality, open access, global sociability, economic revenues and globalization.
- Increasing risk of cybercrime and cyberattacks.



What is Facebook doing to solve these problems?
1) Related to users: strong committment on Neutrality, Transparency, Governance.
2) Related to market: innovation and cybersecurity.
3) Related to states: opening new agencies around the world, to work with governments.



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