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Jakarta Post
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Facebook overtakes the US as third largest

  • Nury Vittachi

Bangkok | Sun, January 10 2010 | 03:50 pm

The message was mysterious. "I'd like to meet you. I am the ruler of one of the three biggest countries in the world." I don't get an invitation like that every day. Once or twice a month, yes, but not every day.

But who could it be? All large countries are run by guys, aren't they? The biggest nations by population are China, India and the US. The biggest ones by land mass are Russia, Canada and China. The biggest places by ego of ruling party members are Singapore, North Korea and Malaysia. They're all run by guys, which is probably why the world is in such a mess.

Any sensible, intelligent person would have ignored such a wacky invitation. So 14 minutes later I was there. At the coffee shop I met a pleasant thirty-something Australian woman called Janice. She explained that "the land of Facebook" had just overtaken the US as the third biggest country in the world, with 350 million people, compared to America's 308 million.

"And at present rates of growth, we will hit one billion by 2015 and overtake China and India by 2017," she said. "Then we will rule the world."

I pointed out the flaw in her argument: "Facebook is not a country." She smiled slowly. "That's a technicality. The information you need to provide to join Facebook is similar to that you provide to get a passport, and your Facebook name is equivalent to your passport number. Facebook users have rights and duties, and are actually more cohesive than citizens of other countries."

The points she made were reasonable, albeit insane, but there was another issue: What made her the ruler? She explained: "Facebook is a democratic kingdom. The company tries to make decisions, but in the end, the typical user decides what happens. The gingerism debate is a good example."

I had no idea what gingerism was, but I could guess what was coming. I said: "And you are a 35-year-old white female, thus you are the typical user, thus you rule Facebook." She nodded and took a sip of her triple-shot soy latte.

I asked: "But have you and your mates had any experience at governing a country?" She shook her head. "No. But we've all played Farmville." I said: "That'll do. It pretty much covers all the bases."

It was one of the strangest conversations I had had for a long time, and I'm talking two, maybe three hours. I told her: "You know, it's not really the number of people that count. It's the size of the economy." But she replied: "If it's the economy, then the Facebook community has already got more money than China and India."

Janice and her mates are working on a flag and a national anthem and are writing immigration policies (some of them want MySpace users barred).

But I eventually came up with an argument that caused her to pause. "If Facebook is a country, users have to get off their backsides and compete in the Olympics; they have to finance international bodies like the UN; and they have to send their share of peacekeepers to Afghanistan."

She put down her latte. Maybe being experienced at Farmville isn't enough after all.

The writer is a columnist and journalist.

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