Facebook has added a tool that facilitates easy communication between users and the elected officials who represent them — a move that comes less than six months after the election of President Donald Trump sparked an increase in activism, protests and civic engagement.
This feature, dubbed Town Hall, prompts users to enter their address, before delivering a list of their elected officials, from local councilmembers up to the president. With a few clicks, or taps of their finger, users can follow the relevant politicians. With a few more, they can get in touch via email, mail, phone and even Facebook Messenger.
The tool is located beneath the "explore" section of the social network’s News Feed on a desktop, or in the menu of Facebook’s app on phones. In a post on Monday, March 27, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced and elaborated upon the Town Hall feature.
“Building a civically-engaged community means building new tools to help people engage in a thoughtful and informed way,” Zuckerberg wrote. “The starting point is knowing who represents you and how you can make your voice heard on the decisions that affect your life. The more you engage with the political process, the more you can ensure it reflects your values. This is an important part of feeling connected to your community and your democracy, and it’s something we’re increasingly focused on at Facebook.”
While other technologists have created apps and platforms aimed at fostering better communication between the public and those who govern them, Facebook is by far the largest and most prominent. Within six hours of Zuckerberg publishing the announcement post, more than 51,000 users had reacted to it.
While it, of course, remains to be seen whether this will make a significant different in the political process, previous efforts by the social media giant have done so. In September 2016, the Georgia secretary of state’s office reported that it saw a 2,255 percent increase in Online Voter Registration System hits over the previous year after Facebook launched a voter registration reminder in user news feeds. A similar reminder reaped tangible benefits for engagement in California.
Despite these efforts, however, voter turnout in the 2016 presidential election reached close to its lowest point in two decades.