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Youtube, Vine, Twitter, Tumblr, 4chan, Reddit, Stack Overflow, heck, even Github or Slashdot...all these online, primarily social sites have been able to build up not only tremendous communities, but "celebrities", sometimes even actual stars as well.

In a pseudo-cyberpunk setting in a world, the community of a website organized resistance against an oppressing, secretly global power, for freedom of their entire planet. Partially, it happens, when the oppressors build an AI that accidentally, takes control over the "internet" and destroy every major nation by tactical nuclear strikes.

Now, assume this does not exterminate life in general, nor human race itself - it's possibly the matter of an entirely different question, but I have plans. Anyway, assume what happens after that is the "cryptolock" of every computers, the end of some towns and a gigantic recession, but humans remain to live on.

There's a chaos never seen before. Several "nuke-harmless" countries collapse anyway, in the destabilization. In my setting, the remaining members of the community, from all around the globe, gather in the same town and start establishing a state. (let's call it Future Empire, if it's relevant in any intent). After this, thy become the major state organization with technocratic and humanitarian aims.

My question is regarding about its likelihood. An online community is definitely not such a serious task to maintain like an entire country. Though, there are similarities that I think are beneficial for the starting conditions:

  • at least within the original members of the community, there are respected individuals. Hierarchy is easier to establish.

  • Admins, mods and similar people may have experience at solving confrontations and handling human relationships.

  • A community that is unified enough shows confidence, stability and safety, and it is possibly attractive for poor, starving, desperate, rebelling, etc people.

I can also see the disadvantages of this situation, especially in the potential lack of experts in certain vital fields - is it possible to solve?

TL;DR - can Stack Overflow build up a country?

My story does not take place on Earth, but if it's hard to give a general answer, then we may focus on a "this happens on Earth" scenario.

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    $\begingroup$ A great many people on WB have already built a country... $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Nov 10 '16 at 20:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre not even talking about the country now led by a 4chan meme. $\endgroup$ – Katamori Nov 10 '16 at 21:02
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    $\begingroup$ An episode of 'Black Mirror', 'Nosedive' may be of interest to your world building. $\endgroup$ – tmcc Nov 10 '16 at 22:13
  • $\begingroup$ @tmcc Thank you very much, I've read a summary about that episode and while it was hard for me to understand the relationship at first, this concept indeed depicts a real society with online treat in mind. $\endgroup$ – Katamori Nov 10 '16 at 23:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Katamori I highly disagree with the top "no" answers. They are predicated on limited experience with existing websites in an existing, highly affluent consumer culture in which the Internet and politics are a source of entertainment, not a post-disaster setting in which it is an essential tool. See my answer below for my take on the subject. In a real or virtual (futuristic) community, recognizing social norms and getting along with people you don't know is far from optional. Unless it's antisocial by design. $\endgroup$ – Ber Nov 11 '16 at 8:55
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No.

There's a huge difference between an online community and a physical one.

We log in, chat with people we know as @Katamori , etc., then - most of us - log out and go about our real lives.

While I might respect a SE mod's opinion on these sites, why would I respect their intervention in a private matter? Who are they to me, really? And the answer is no one. I have a family. I have good friends. Maybe I'm a member of a tightly knit community, etc. I will always value their opinions over someone whom I have never even met.

Furthermore, maybe you've noticed that our users come from every corner of the globe. After a nuclear apocalypse wipes out every major city center on the face of the planet how exactly are you going to have these people all communicate, agree to drop everything, and travel to this magical place where you intend to found a nation?

People are driven by a sense of community, yes. We're social creatures. However, with survival in the balance, golden-age niceties such as politeness and political correctness go out the window. And online communities are not built around survival - they (the good ones anyway) are built around respect, and offering people a place to share their thoughts without fear of abuse.

Someone who might moderate a debate in chat, and ban a rude user is not necessarily the person best suited to lead a group of people into a barren, nuclear wasteland.

I'd also like to point out that founding a "major state organization with technocratic and humanitarian aims" is not realistic in a post apocalyptic scenario. The world is ash and cinders, a malevolent AI is probably building an army of T9000's in some underground facility somewhere, and I can guarantee you that large packs of scavengers and bandits are out there doing their thing, armed to the teeth. And you're worried about humanitarian aid? How about just finding food, water, and a place to sleep? How about hanging on to those things, not to mention defending your life, and the lives of your family and friends?

At that point you will have way bigger issues than contacting your online friends, setting up a place to meet, then announcing that you've formed the nation of Stack Exchangia, and will be benign overlords of a utopia born on the stack exchange forums. Number 1, no one will be listening to your proclamations of peace and equality, and 2, you'll be too busy dodging bullets to finish your speech.

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    $\begingroup$ Minor fixing, though: And you're worried about humanitarian aid? How about just finding food, water, and a place to sleep? - by the former, I meant the latter. I'm aware that every community starts by providing help for each other. $\endgroup$ – Katamori Nov 10 '16 at 21:11
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    $\begingroup$ @katamori - a group of survivalists, or militia types might indeed band together under the situation you're describing. They know each other, share the same values, and know they will defend one another. But a bunch of nerds (yes, me included), who like to discuss programming issues and balloon-whales are not going to be in any position to accomplish these things. As for humanitarian aid, the issue here is scope. I meant all those things in a very selfish way. Water, food, and shelter for me and mine, not for you and yours. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Nov 10 '16 at 21:12
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    $\begingroup$ @katamori - to be clear, I'm not saying that a community can't come together, thrive, defend themselves, and eventually grow into a stronghold which imposes its morality and laws on everyone else. But you're basically looking at the dark ages at that point - city states, and roaming bands of killers who want to take your stuff. You need a strong, well armed population, and a core of determined, leaders with the knowledge to motivate them. A bunch of teenagers who met online are probably not it. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Nov 10 '16 at 21:19
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    $\begingroup$ Exactly, what do you mean with "real lives"? :-) $\endgroup$ – Francesco Nov 11 '16 at 13:30
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    $\begingroup$ @andreirom it was a joke :-) $\endgroup$ – Francesco Nov 11 '16 at 18:01
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Nope.

I am a moderator on Stack Exchange. If you put me in a position to control a country's military, infrastructure, and economy, the government will collapse within the week and we'll all die.

Moderating internet trolls and the good-natured bunch of y'all that make Stack Exchange sites tick is one thing. It poses its own unique problems, and there are some analogies to real-world government:

  • Fighting spammers with our ban-hammer, Mjölnir (the military)
  • Tagging and retagging and re-retagging and organizing content (maintaining the infrastructure)
  • Deleting poor content and suspending folks who break the rules (law enforcement)
  • Migrating questions and building inter-site relationships (foreign policy)

However, all of these require a limited skillset. Sure, you need to have maturity, a good temperament, commitment to the job, and a fairly strong conscience, but I don't need to know the ins and outs of economics or how troop movements work. I click on boxes and the computer does the rest. Boom. That's moderation. I write a couple paragraphs in a meta post. Boom. That's leading.

It's easier to lead on the Internet than in real life, and it's easier to keep law and order on the Internet than in real life. There are firm systems you have to stay within purely from the perspective of the UI; they're there to keep folks in line.

After an apocalypse, it's a lot harder. There are no restrictions, no system to give us the tools to lead and follow those who can lead better (not that with them we'd be any more successful).

And, frankly, most of us don't have the skill set to keep a society together. We have disparate skills - especially here on Worldbuilding - but we don't have enough, and we don't have the expertise to put them into practice.

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No.

Something like this was tried several times and it failed.

In Russian imageboards, there's idea of 'Битардск' ~ '/b/-tardville' - rural village squatted by anon commune - or collectively rented property. On one hand, swapping society you're not comfortable with to one you are comfortable with looks neat. With some amount of planning commune may even seem self-sufficient, in theory.

In practice, these tries usually fail. Turns out stable online society does not translate to stable offline society.

Participation in online communities is voluntary and there exists a selection bias. Some people are way more likely to participate than others and you're going to have surplus of those and deficit of people who are not likely to participate online.

For example, skillsets of people in StackOverflow community are heavily biased towards programming, which also means that they are biased against stuff that is pretty far from programming.

Well, problem of skillsets can be solved. However, there's another problem: personalities.

People usually get a healthy-ish dose of personal interaction offline with different people, and some interaction online with some people. Online societies in this setup are not expected to provide all meaningful interactions and are not tested for their ability to do so.

Even if we speak about imageboards that can occupy majority of user's social interactions, they're not going to translate into offline societies well. Same thing with supply and demand. If you have oversupply of people who are good at discussing things you're likely to lack in department of people who can actually get stuff done. There could be some bonding thing that partially solves the problem by forcing people to do stuff they won't do usually. However, online societies don't provide that.

Drugs, for example, do and sometimes attempts to build a b-tardsk devolve into a drughouse. However, drugs are just a filler for when lifestyle and society does not provide things you need. Cults provide bonding too. Although they are not online, I'd expect cult-based society to outperform online-community based one, provided that both are trying their best to get by. There are cults (A outcompetes B, A competes for the same resources => B is going to have a bad time).

Online society is also not tested for ability to provide stuff offline society is expected to. For example, sex life. Attempts to round up some willing anons and build a community fail spectacularly if there are girls in the community. Competition for sex generates ridiculous amounts of drama. Same thing, although a bit delayed (because Overton window is inert) happens with groups with gays or bi-curious people, and you don't have any realistic way to prevent that.

I've heard of only 2 semi-successfull attempts - 1 became a drughouse but people who remained there were quite OK with that, and it lasted. Another operated as a web studio, but people there knew each other for some time before and that course of actions was planned. It lasted for some time too.

Speaking of larger societies, I suppose it's even less likely. If communications are disrupted, gathering people from the whole country is going to take years and lots of resources and is not guaranteed to pay off, let alone global project. Yes, some centralisation would be good, but not a global one. Especially when somewhere out there is a thing that would gladly nuke that newfound city.

I'd expect Amish to outperform any online-based community by a wide margin and hence I wouldn't expect online-based community to seize power in Future Empire even if there was built one.

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  • $\begingroup$ Your "no" answer, like the others is predicated on the assumption of a specific online forum / community in an environment of limitless choice, consumerism (and the availability of things like drugs, and currency) where people have the opportunity to opt-out of that environment. It also presupposes that existing physical communities cannot form online-only analogs. The question referred to a futuristic and post-apocalyptic environment. In such an environment people would not have the luxury to "opt-out" of social norms if they wanted to remain part of it -- or eat. The Amish merely innovated. $\endgroup$ – Ber Nov 11 '16 at 8:25
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    $\begingroup$ My answer is mostly based on actual attempts to build something similar - at least ones I'm familiar with. If you say that people have little to no choice which community to join - well, what would make them join online-based community in the first place? Family-based or locally-based seem way more feasible. It is true that having all required supplies regularly teleported to their doorstep is not forbidden and with this advantage even disfunctional community can outcompete normal one. However, this is really unlikely. $\endgroup$ – Daerdemandt Nov 11 '16 at 10:25
  • $\begingroup$ I'm just saying this is a science-fiction scenario, so while yours is based on actual experience, it's based on specific real-world assumptions, and the top two "no" answers are impossibly general. It's like saying you can't have a realistic planet where communism works. $\endgroup$ – Ber Nov 12 '16 at 23:48
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Shift the plane of thought and maybe then your answer might be

Yes

If this "bomb" instead of killing us, knocked us into a virtual environment, where all users of SE suddenly become Avatars in Minecraft.. we quickly recognize that we all need to light hundreds of torches and build big walls around ourselves.. then we discuss what happened? and then rebuild society? within the virtual environment, and the Mods would discover some pre-existing benefits in this new world? then yeah.. maybe.

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    $\begingroup$ This would actually make a pretty cool story by itself $\endgroup$ – Deruijter Nov 11 '16 at 4:38
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    $\begingroup$ Isn't it a synopsis of Sword Art Online or something similar? $\endgroup$ – Mr Scapegrace Nov 11 '16 at 9:06
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    $\begingroup$ @MrScapegrace It's, like, a whole mini-genre. Before modern MMOs, characters would get stuck in a tabletop games and alike. $\endgroup$ – Daerdemandt Nov 11 '16 at 11:04
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Yes.

The "no" answers seem to be trying to prove a negative about a hypothetical society based on current websites, but this is a post-disaster, alternate Earth setting we're talking about. One with its own societal conditions, and an evolved online culture. It should indeed be possible to build such a society, depending on the premise, provided we understand the question is not "can StackOverflow build up a present-day country". It is "can an online forum, e.g. StackOverflow (or any number of somewhat-different websites left over by the Old Ones, i.e. us) build up a country, defined as any possible or unforseen means of government in a realistic, future Earth setting".

The question cannot be disproved by citing the limitations of StackOverflow itself.

The "no" answers to this question suggest a fairly limited interpretation of what a "country" might look like. Sociologically, a nation-state, like a blog, is a human construct -- not a social contract or social fact, not something immutable and innate to human beings, but something intellectual that proceeds from human desire for structure, alongside numerous other, alternate means of societal organization -- temples, tribes, corporations, feudalism, etc.

By the same token, the "No" answers are predicated on an assumption that the Internet is one specific type of thing, and that other forms of organiziation on the Internet are not possible due to the nature of humanity, trolls or whatever. This is based on observation bias. The Internet would be extremely different today had the laws written in the 90s or the culture of 90s-era web communities or the intentions of people who wrote the code for the Internet been different. It is safe to assume the Internet of the post-apocalyptic future would also be extremely different. The Internet is a tool, one that mirrors offline methods of organization. The behavior of people on the Internet is a (dark) mirror of offline culture and behavior.

Both the State and online organizations are means of organizing societies from afar. In most nation states, the average citizen has little or no face-to-face relationship with those who govern them. In many ways it is a consumer relationship. To say that an online community can't run a society because then we wouldn't have the face-to-face relationship we enjoy with our local leaders, is in some ways an idealistic straw-man. It's true that such a society may be different, maybe less democratic (but not necessarily) than a town-hall democracy, but we don't live in a town-hall democracy today (and many people constantly say that technology has rendered town-hall democracy as impossible as online democracy, but we have no proof that either are impossible).

Moreover, the 30-year existence of community listservs, many of which are used to rally citizenry at the neighborhood level and the people not on the email list don't get much of a say when they show up for the town-hall meeting, proves the "Yes" argument by example.

If I were writing your story, I would focus on the concept of the "Internet of things" and how it relates to your future society both pre- and post-apocalypse. I would also read "How The Irish Saved Civilization" and its influence on so-called digital scribes who seek to preserve knowledge from data decay using the Internet (which was designed first and foremost by ARPA to preserve data in the face of a nuclear holocaust) to counteract the effects of decreasing lifespan of storage media (from books to much more fragile magnetic drives). Also keep in mind that the structure of the online community you wish to use is important. I would take the approach of sci-fi and fantasy novels that compare several different societies by having the protagonist interact with several different communities, some of which are successful, some of which are unsuccessful, some tyrannies.

You might also look at articles by respected psychologists on how social networking is rewiring the brains of young people -- not necessarily for the better, but extremely relevant to this question -- by making reputation something that carries with them throughout adulthood, where there is no break from the pressures of online reputation because they are always online, carrying it with them, and their words are not ephemeral. Also read about how China plans to use a universal "online reputation" metric to evaluate all its citizens, giving them more or less rights accordingly. At the opposite extreme, I would read about people who are heavily invested in online subcultures and their pre-existing impact on electoral politics -- the Occupy movement or the alt-right, for instance.

Twitter might be used as a model for the power of the (flash) mob, as several movements have used it as an organizing platform to overthrow governments, but also as a distraction and a sole means of communication. You probably couldn't govern by Twitter, although the current US leader will doubtless try. A society run by Twitter might appear as an "outward-facing Panopticon", an inquisitorial society where people confess their thoughts minute-by-minute, and the most influential thinkers control the discourse by virtue of who is listening to them.

Imagine a series of towns run by an Internet of Things, possibly the sole source of wisdom which survived the war (as all books have been burned up, and the written word is priceless) or people forgot how to read before the war happened and had to re-learn it, (making the online word priceless) due to a universal audio-visual culture. A town run by an anonymous message board with ephemeral posts would create a radically different society than a town run by a social network with rigidly enforced reputation heirarchy in which your comments gather you more reputation which you can exchange for credits, for instance. Imagine that currency has been replaced by credits because paper money was replaced by online credit, brick and mortar stores disappeared, manufacturing jobs were automated and disappeared before the war, and then access to credit and goods became limited to certain sites. These sites became distributed on local peers, which is how they survived the war. Only a few peers survived, resulting in a geographical focus for certain sites. Some sites are more geographically focused than others -- perhaps the people of one community do not know each other face to face, maybe never even go outside because of radiation or what-not but communicate only online -- online organizing becomes even more important. For others who know each other face-to-face it perhaps becomes oppressive, a form of social status, or a sort of techno-feudalism perhaps. Or perhaps the Internet of Things enables a small group of outlaws to maintain a shadow government which impacts the real world, but is only visible online.

Take careful note of online currencies and how those work -- including the phenomenon of "farming" goods for credit on multi-player virtual-reality sims. Certain forms of information might be power (and worth farming for credits) or online goods (and reputation) in a world with limited sources of income, where all goods of value are manufactured by machines that humans don't know how to operate, or pre-date the war.

In real life there are techno-utopians who have called for ordinary democracies to run elections, town hall meetings, citizen participation entirely online -- that is a more positive spin on it.

Any cyberpunk author would answer "yes" to this question, provided you were imaginative about it. It's an intriguing basis for a story and there's a million different ways you can go with it -- which alone disproves the "no" hypothesis -- unless you're a modernist asserting that there's only one form of ideal government -- or a postmodernist asserting that the media fundamentally distances us and prevents us from forming a community to begin with.

Really, the "no" answer to this question asserts that it is impossible to use technology to form a government, and we have no evidence of that. Or it asserts that it's impossible to modify a whole bunch of different sorts of online forums to substitute for (or run) a viable face-to-face community, again we have no evidence of that. (and some evidence that it is possible). Or it asserts that government is inherently based on a monopoly on physical force and there is no other analog or competing structure that can serve as an online model.

Certainly the existence of entirely innovative types of forum, invented relatively recently, such as the wiki (or the contacts-monitoring social-media platform) militate against the notion that it's impossible merely because you couldn't do it on an existing site, such as a Q&A site. If society were trapped underground and the only means of communication were StackOverflow, SO would quickly be adapted to serve the purpose. The question is what form it would then take.

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  • $\begingroup$ although the current US leader will doubtless try. - I would like to see that. Diplomacy over twitter, great success for the twitter. lol/ But overall interesting answer. $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Nov 13 '16 at 3:43
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No

I think the core issue from the start would be trust and identity. It turns out that this "Joel Harmon" account I use is a clever misdirection on my part. I'm secretly Joel Spolsky, founder of Stack Overflow. As such, I am the God-Emperor of Stacklandia¹. The first order of business is for me to figure out who among this crowd of thousands (millions?) is an administrator on one of the sites, and who is lying to gain authority. I need to get this figured out as quickly and painlessly as possible (so they can begin organizing construction on my statue²).

How many users of SO can you pick out of a police lineup, much less a crowd? My number is 3. If I can trust avatars, that number goes up to maybe 6 or 8. Even then, though, the original question posits the wholesale destruction of all major nations. At a guess, that means half the community members are dead to start with anyway, including the moderator population. The question also posits the cryptolock of all computers, meaning there's no way to, say, post a picture of yourself to verify your identity.

Taken all together, I think there would be enough holes in this new hierarchy that they'd be filled in the traditional way. That is, the most forceful personalities would more or less end up in charge.

¹ I'm sorry, Mr. Spolsky. Please don't ban me.

² Too much?

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YES - Depending on the community

It's been my experience with several forums that members on there will sometimes organize a gathering or have several members meet with each other. My main example (which might be biased), is an online community such as AboveTopSecret.com - It's built up of people that believe in everything under the sun, and I (as a member), have made several friends on there.

A community such as that site could potentially survive for the following reasons: 1. Members come from all walks of life - there are engineers, writers, survivalists, scientists of all flavors, and supposedly ex-FBI/CIA/Police.

Due to this, most of the gaps that would be absent can be filled easily.

  1. Most of the members are clustered around a specific country (IE: There are lots of members in the USA alone).

  2. Most of the members, like the rest of us in society, know how to "agree to disagree". While they do have opposing beliefs, they can coexist.

  3. There's a healthy number of members into survival, and making do with what they have around them.

Mainstream sites like Twitter or youtube would struggle more because: 1. Unless you have a large number of Youtube posters that work together, each person is more or less in their own bubble/channel. That guy that does science experiments does not talk to the guy giving a lecture on finances.

  1. A large number of people on those sites devote themselves to something that would not help out the community. Those cute videos of cats might make you happy for a few minutes, but that's not going to help you build a society.

  2. Many of the people on those sites have never met in person. On youtube, all we really see is what they present in front of the camera. Same with twitter: We see a screen with thoughts that might only be some of their thoughts. Maybe those people are brilliant only when they are alone, in their rooms doing this stuff. At least on a forum, you have people with a common interest constantly interacting with one another.

In short: I think it would be possible with the right forum, but not realistically possible with a place such as youtube or twitter.

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  • $\begingroup$ But, but... maybe it is a cat-worshiping society, like ancient Egypt. The cat videos would doubtless have religious significance. (Combined with drugs, they also serve as oracles predicting the future of the Cat Harvest, and make their followers' post-apocalyptic lives more happy.) Ultimately we cannot know what the cat videos signify, other than a path to the afterlife. $\endgroup$ – Ber Nov 13 '16 at 5:16
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To me the answer to this question is dependent on the answer to the following question: do you consider the idea of a country to be tied to geography?

If country is tied immutably to geography, then no, an online group, regardless of where the respective members are located, could never be a country because there is no geographical data that describes the location of the Internet. Something online is by definition digital and essentially anonymous, not tied to any geographic location. Each individual piece is stored on a hard drive somewhere, and that hard drive does have a geographic location, but does that location necessarily matter to people who are accessing that data while viewing a website? Not on the whole.

If country is not tied to geography in any way, then yes - an online group of any kind could form a country by creating a system of government and defining who the governed are; who are the members of the group (citizens), and how does one become a citizen?

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I give this a resounding...maybe

It's extremely implausible, but certainly not impossible.

For example, if the community is worldbuilding.stackexchange.com, my answer would be hysterical fits of laughter. On the other hand, if the community is survivalist.stackexchange.com, then...maybe.

There are certainly other factors that would play into it, such as:

  • Population density of the group within a given geographic area. For example, there are likely more members of our hypothetical survivalist.stackexchange.com in some areas of the United States than others.
  • Do the members of the group have theoretical or practical knowledge? In other words, are the members of our group theoretical survivalists, or have they applied their knowledge and acquired the skills?
  • Are the group members ready to deal with real-world issues? I.e., in the event of post-apocalyptic communication issues, are they prepared to use alternate means of communication, such as amateur radio?

After some more thought...

The reasons I cited above (as well as the reasons cited by others), don't matter much to the OP's question. The real questions that the OP needs to answer as he is creating his world are:

  • What post-apocalyptic survival skill does this community have that makes them uniquely (or best) qualified to govern (or even just the first to establish a viable government, whether it's unique/best or not)?
  • If the government of their community is accomplished through virtual means (i.e., in a new, hypothetical government.stackexchange.com, then how/why does that virtual influence translate into physical influence?
  • If the government of their community is purely physical, then how/why did they come together to form this physical community (i.e., was a physical meeting of these people taking place when The Event happened)?
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    $\begingroup$ It would be pretty hard to tell decent survivalists apart from regular crowd. I suppose "don't look like the guy worth robbing" is among their priorities. $\endgroup$ – Daerdemandt Nov 13 '16 at 0:33

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