If it hadn't already been Facebook's moment, it certainly is now. It has become obvious, even to skeptics, that the firm is not just an interesting fad (remember GeoCities?), but an integral part of the world's social architecture.
In the near future, we can expect a new intensity of international and domestic scrutiny of what has become one of the most powerful tools on the planet for planning events and mapping connections between people. How Facebook reacts to such scrutiny will give us a sense of the soul of this company, more so than any recent movie ever could.
In the United States, most of the attention has been on Facebook's privacy policies, which once again have come under criticism for lapses due to third-party applications sharing personal data. At root, what makes Facebook interesting is a mutual agreement to tell others who you are, what you like, and what you are doing. In the United States, the pressure on Facebook, relatively mild so far, comes mostly from journalists and advocacy groups like the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
But the time is coming when Facebook will begin to face ever more intense international pressure from foreign governments unpleased, for one reason or another, with how the site operates.
It is a truism that any Internet firm, or in fact any information firm, once established, begins to gain the attention of governments, which are naturally suspicious of anything that rivals their power over information. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, sites like Yahoo and eBay were the first Internet darlings to face serious international pressure. In 2000, a French Jewish group sued Yahoo for allowing Nazi paraphernalia to be sold on its auction site. (Yahoo initially insisted the Internet could not be regulated, but ended up paying up.) In 2004, an eBay executive was briefly imprisoned in India because pornographic DVDs were available for purchase through the site. This year, three Google executives were convicted and found guilty of criminal defamation in their absence, by an Italian court that held the men responsible for an unseemly YouTube video that showed students bullying a disabled child. Google, which owns YouTube, took the video down, but not quickly enough for the Italian judge.