Digital Democracy: Facebook Makes Political Push With Town Hall Feature | WGLT

Digital Democracy: Facebook Makes Political Push With Town Hall Feature

Facebook is hoping its newest feature will build civic engagement among its users.

Users can put in their address into Facebook Town Hall, which displays their federal, state and local representatives. Users can view the lawmakers’ pages and “like” them to stay updated.

Users can also turn their new Constituent Badge on or off. When activated, an icon of a generic capitol building appears next to the Facebook user’s name when they comment on their representative’s page, indicating they live within the district lines of that lawmaker.

The new Constituent Badges in action on Sen. Barickman's Facebook page.
Credit Facebook

There is notable use of the badge on state Sen. Jason Barickman’s Facebook page. The Bloomington Republican’s communications director, Mike Brooks, said with time this feature will take off.

“Facebook has been a proven way to reach constituents. It’s a way to get more people civically engaged because there are a fair amount of people who don’t know who their senators or representatives are,” Brooks said. “(Barickman) is always into new ways of connecting with them, so it seems like a program with a lot of potential benefits. A method of easier contact with Sen. Barickman is always good.”

Facebook users from Bloomington-Normal are already using Facebook Town Hall, with mixed results.

“I guess I am hopeful that my representatives may take my comments more seriously if they know that I am a voter in their district,” said Normal resident Connie Starr Kelly. “There's been a lot of talk from the right about paid protesters as an excuse not to take seriously the very real opposition to the policies of the Trump-Pence administration, and so if my badge can eliminate that I guess it's at least minimally useful.”

Other local Facebook users aren’t putting much faith into Facebook Town Hall.

Barbara Gilhaus of Normal said the Constituent Badge won’t influence Barickman to take her comments more seriously.

“I doubt it. He has a path that he is carving out, and people who do not follow him down that narrow path are too far away to be heard,” Gilhaus said.

Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone said Town Hall’s creation was not influenced by America’s current political climate. He said Facebook is continuously working toward civic engagement.

He said Town Hall created over 1 million new connections between people and their representatives in the U.S. in less than a month after it launched. Facebook reports over 2 million people registered to vote after seeing a reminder on Facebook in 2016.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to remove a reference to how an elected official can adjust their page settings.

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