Of course, there's an official difference between these hypothetical ambassadors to Facebook and actual diplomats, who are recognized and protected by Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. But there are already gray areas for entities that aren't widely considered sovereign nations. "Taiwan is an interesting example -- it's not recognized by most states," Hughes said.. "If they can [participate in diplomacy], why can't Facebook?"
There's already some sense in the diplomatic community that a nation's Web presence is something to guard and protect. Over the last two years, with Hillary Clinton at the helm of the State Department, the U.S. has expanded its own "21 st Century Statecraft," with Obama ' s Persian - subtitled messages to the Iranian people and official State Department Twitter accounts in Portuguese, Arabic and other languages. Ambassador John Limbert, the former deputy assistant secretary of state for Iran (and a former U.S. Embassy hostage in Tehran) told me this week that adopting these tools should already be part of a nation's diplomatic toolkit. "Presumably, if a country's diplomatic service is doing its job, it will have tech-savvy people in its midst who, unlike people of my generation, will understand this stuff much better," he said.
When I ran the idea by David Edelstein, a professor and chair of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, however, he was not enthused.
"If you were a small or medium-sized country, what would you get by sending your diplomats to Facebook?" he asked. "It's not like sending them to Ford to get them to build a factory in your country. To me, that's a tough question to answer, exactly what they would hope to get out of that diplomacy." But he did see value in diplomatic relations going the other way, with Facebook sending representatives to foreign countries. "It could smooth the road to some of these legal and privacy issues before they become crises," he said. "That surely could be beneficial. Whether that requires standing diplomatic presences or not is probably not the extent you need to go. But some kind of regular consultation with countries in which they're operating would probably be in everybody's interest."
In a way, it's already happening. For the last five years, the Plug and Play Tech Center in Sunnyvale,Calif., home of Yahoo, has been working with representatives from Austria, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Malaysia, and Singapore to create "productive relationships that have resulted in increased international exposure for the respective countries and their high tech companies."