Is Facebook private or public? This is currently being hotly debated, even in libertarian circles where Facebook was by and large considered private up until it silenced a large number of libertarian-leaning groups and pages. I believe that in order to debate this topic, the definitions of public and private must first be established.
What distinguishes a private entity from a public one? I would argue that the characteristic that most distinguishes a private entity from a public one is whether or not you’re allowed to stop participating in it. If, for example, you stop participating in the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), you will likely be awakened some early morning by the sound of men with guns breaking down your door. If you’re lucky, they’ll kidnap you. If you’re unlucky, they’ll summarily execute you.
What happens if you stop participating in Facebook? You stop participating in Facebook. That’s it. No men with guns will kick down your door and kidnap or execute you.
Since participation in Facebook is voluntary, I will continue to argue that it is a private entity. Even if it does collect user information for the expressed purpose of selling it to government agencies (as many self-proclaimed libertarians have been arguing as of late), it’s still private because you’re not being cohered into participating in the information collection (until the IRS’s information collection).