Facebook has added nearly 200 flags to its Profile Frames feature, letting users now attach a symbol of national identity to the corner of their profile pictures. Profile Frames came out in 2015 as a way to let users around the world pledge allegiance to their favorite sports team, and in December of last year Facebook started allowing anyone to design and submit their own photo frames. The addition of official flag frames was first reported by TechCrunch earlier today.
While this may seem like a warm-hearted gesture of good faith, there is a deeper way to read the introduction of photo frame flags. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg last week published a 5,800-word open letter that reframed the company’s mission in far more grandiose terms. In short, Zuckerberg acknowledged the responsibility of a social network as large and powerful as Facebook in helping contribute to the building of civic engagement and “a global community that works for all of us.”
So on the surface it seems somewhat strange that, following a proclamation that Facebook is a new kind of digital nation state that can transcend all boundaries, the company would like you to proudly proclaim your country of origin. But, like the many other ways Facebook lets you create and craft your own online identity, this feature seems less about pledging yourself to a real-world government and more about fostering a sense of global belonging.
After all, Zuckerberg is not trying to destroy the foundations of modern civil life — Facebook operates very much within the confines of the existing economic and political landscape. But the company would very much like you to think of its social network as a second state, one where the flag of your country can co-exist with your holistic online identity in equal measure.