By Adv. Karam Pratap Singh (Member of Editorial Advisory Board) – Practicing Advocate at SC and HC of Himachal Pradesh.
At the outset, let me confess that the title of this post is quite misleading but not fully so, let’s find out how. A state (I’ve used “country” in the title because in India state generally used to describe a province and not a country) if you ask a student of political thought, comprises of four chief constituents viz. Territory, Population, Sovereignty and Government.
Let’s go one by one. Starting with Population first. Can the billions of users on Facebook (FB, for brevity henceforth) or any other similar social media platform for that matter be called its population? Population, going by popular definition, refers to people living somewhere. So, is Facebook a place to live in? Virtually, yes! Practically, no! We’ll explore this ahead, again.
Government – FB has policies and laws according to which it functions and it also has an administration which runs it. Let’s not go into deeper questions like the form of government etc. For now, let’s say that technically FB has a government.
Does any territory or area belong to FB? It has datacentres which it owns housed in various states worldwide, so it can be said that it has a territory. But does FB have absolute control over its territory? Surely, no! All these datacentres adhere to laws of states they are housed in. But, what if it gets an island all to itself and declares it as it’s the absolute territory? Quite possible! In that case, it can have a population and confer citizenship of FB island to all its users. There are complexities Involved here though, most states don’t allow their citizens to have citizenship of any other state.
Let’s not complicate things by getting into Jean Bodin, Hobbes, Locke and other thinkers’ definition of the term, and define Sovereignty using Wikipedia as the “full right and power of a governing body over itself, without any interference from outside sources or bodies.” Facebook doesn’t have absolute control and is subject to various laws of various jurisdictions, so can’t be called sovereign. However, if it were to have a territory of its own, maybe we could have re-considered sovereignty vis-a-vis FB.
You must be wondering what weird and imaginative interpretations I’m putting forth, I’ll say why not! This post is intended to light a fire in the minds of readers so that they liberally exercise their imagination and creativity even in law – in most cases, this is how jurisprudence evolves. Who knows, several years later, we may actually be facing a situation where powerful entities may claim statehood.