Facebook Town Hall Aims to Connect People With Local Governments

Some people make a point of staying in touch with their local governmental representatives, always knowing what's going on, which policies are being brought in, suggesting ideas for changes to the local area, all that jazz. Those people are like unicorns with phoenix blood, you'll meet perhaps 5 of them in your lifetime, if you're lucky. Really and truly, we should all have some level of involvement with our local governments, but it just doesn't happen.

One of the points Mark Zuckerberg made in his massive 6,000 word behemoth of an open letter was that we should all be more 'civically engaged', or at least that's where he hopes Facebook is headed. It makes sense; Facebook enables people to be more directly connected with everyone from local establishments to law enforcement to buskers, so why not local government? You could argue that an open line of communication with the people who represent you in congress/parliament is more important than any of those.

On some level, you can't skirt around the fact that Zuckerberg is accounting for the ongoing accusations that Facebook is basically ruining politics, but he has a point. A point which has now been put into practise in the form of 'Town Hall', the latest in a drip feed of shiny new Facebook features. It can be found in the 'More' menu on the mobile app, and it basically enables users to connect with government representatives locally, as well as in their home state and nationally.

I say 'home state' because it hasn't migrated beyond the US yet, but the system it uses could easily be applied to other countries: you put in your address, and Facebook generates a list of your reps, who you can then follow. The lists being given to US users are fairly comprehensive, running all the way from local councillors and senators to Trump himself, but it still relies on the people in question actually having a presence on Facebook. If your town mayor doesn't have a Facebook page, they won't appear on the list.

Beyond just following them, you can also contact them directly, although obviously the practicality of that wanes the further up the tree you go. It's one thing to have a direct line of communication with your nearest congressman, but sending a Facebook message to Mike Pence might be a bit of a fool's errand. It also depends on how much contact information the person actually displays on their Facebook page, of course.

The thing is though, now that this feature is active, government officials might be encouraged to start using Facebook more actively just to have a more consistent line of communication with the people. On the other side, when you go onto Town Hall you're actually shown which of your friends are already connecting with officials, so in a similar vein to the 'I voted' trope they rolled out a couple of years ago, the service might act as a kind of well-meaning peer pressure.

Finally, the service can also alert you to local elections in your area, if you want it to, a significant benefit which could end up being a big draw. Of all the new features Facebook has bolted on in recent weeks, this is the most promising. So much of Facebook activity is passive now, but encouraging people to actively engage with local governments could make a huge difference to the platform's relationship with political activity, which is currently on some pretty taught tenterhooks.

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