Facebook inserts itself into politics with new tools that help elected officials reach constituents
Facebook this year has launched a number of features that make it easier for people to reach their government representatives on its social network, including “Town Hall,” and related integrations with News Feed, as well as ways to share reps’ contact info in your own posts. Today, the company is expanding on these initiatives with those designed for elected officials themselves. The new tools will help officials connect with their constituents, as well as better understand which issues their constituents care about most.
Specifically, the social network is rolling out three new features: constituent badges, constituent insights, and district targeting.
Constituent badges are a new, opt-in feature that allow Facebook users to identify themselves as a person living in the district the elected official represents. Facebook determines whether or not someone is a constituent based on the address information provided either in Town Hall, or as part of the process used to turn on the badges.
While anyone could enter a fake address and pretend to be a constituent, Facebook has put controls in place to limit those bad actors. For starters, Facebook users can only be a verified constituent based on one address at a time – and, if a person changes their address, their badge is removed from prior posts. Facebook also limits the number of times an address can be changed, we understand.
The idea with the badges is to make it easier for elected officials to determine which Facebook comments, questions and concerns are being shared by those they actually represent. Whether or not they’ll treat these sentiments with the same degree of importance as they would a phone call, email, or letter remains to be seen.
Facebook users will be prompted to turn on constituent badges when they like or comment on posts by their reps through a unit that appears on the page. Alternately, users can go to the Town Hall section on Facebook to turn on the badge themselves.
Once enabled, badges will appear anytime a person comments on content shared by their own representatives.
A second feature called Constituent Insights is designed to help elected officials learn which local news stories and content is popular in their district, so they can share their thoughts on those matters.
This will be available to the reps through a new Page Insights feature, available to Page admins, which includes a horizontally scrollable section where locally trending news stories appear. Here, the elected officials can click a link to post that story to their Facebook Page, along with their thoughts on the issue.
Additionally, constituents will be able to browse through these same stories on a new Community tab on the official’s Facebook Page.
The third new feature – District Targeting – is arguably the most notable.
This effectively gives elected officials the means of gathering feedback from their constituents through Facebook directly, using either posts or polls that are targeted only towards those who actually live in their particular district.
That means the official can post to Facebook to ask for feedback from constituents about an issue, and these posts will only be viewable by those who live in their district.
Of course, this also means that the elected official would be taking an active – even proactive – role in engaging with their community and constituent base, rather than waiting for constituents to reach out to their office with their thoughts, as is often the case today.
Overall, the combination of Town Hall with these new features aimed at government officials represent a growing effort at Facebook to become more involved in the political process and the dialog surrounding policy issues.
The changes also follow Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s post of a nearly 6,000-word manifesto earlier this year where he discussed a number of ambitions for the social network in the days ahead, including one focused on how Facebook could be used to increase civic engagement.
In part, these moves are a reaction to the role Facebook played in the U.S. elections, where it did nothing to curb the widespread sharing of disinformation across its network – something that many have claimed helped contribute to Trump’s win.
On that front, Facebook has rolled out a number of new controls, include things like PSAs in the News Feed about how to identify fake news stories; displays of related articles and fact checkers before links are opened; displays of alternative news sources in its Trending section: and it’s downranking fake news stories to make them less visible.
Meanwhile, it has also rolled out features to help Facebook users become more politically engaged (instead of just enraged), by helping them find and contact reps, and more.
Facebook says all three new features are rolling out starting today.