If there was anything positive that came out of the 2016 presidential election, it’s the fact that Americans are becoming more politically aware — and active — than ever before.
Now, concerned voters can weigh in on the issues easier than ever before thanks to a new Facebook tool that helps users connect with their representatives in Congress.
With beta testing completed, the tool — Town Hall — was rolled out on Monday to much praise.
Town Hall helps U.S. users find their state and federal politicians, and then follow them for news. It also allows users to call or message their representatives directly, as long as your representative is on Facebook.
According to TechCrunch, the new Town Hall feature isn’t yet able to pull contact information from official government websites yet, but Facebook says they will address that capability in the future.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO, said that civic-minded features will be a bigger part of Facebook in the future, and the company is planning to focus on such efforts. In a post announcing the unrolling of Town Hall, Zuckerberg said:
“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.”
Zuckerberg released a 6,000-word statement, or “manifesto” last month that included his new mission statement:
“In times like these, the most important thing we at Facebook can do is develop the social infrastructure to give people the power to build a global community that works for all of us.”
According to CNET, Town Hall will also include connections to locally elected officials for the largest 150 cities in the United States. Users will see a new feature that allows them to directly contact their representatives. Along with the invitation to connect, Facebook will also ask users to post a message to their Facebook feed about their experience with the official.
Mashable calls the new feature “the best thing the social network has ever done,” noting that the feature is available for both desktop and mobile use.
You can find the function in the “Town Hall” tab on your Settings page on the app or go to facebook.com/townhall on your desktop.
You’ll need to enter your address, which Facebook promises not to distribute, and will then receive a list of representatives for your location, prompting you to follow those you choose. Options to connect are call, message, email, or to go to their Facebook page.
Mashable also notes Zuckerberg’s interest in making Facebook a bigger part of political and community engagement and states that he’s spending 2017 visiting every state in the U.S. Facebook also announced Monday that it will be launching election reminders as a way to help get out the vote.
A similar feature was provided by Facebook last year during the 2016 presidential election, which helped users develop a plan for voting. Despite downplaying the role that “fake news” articles shared on Facebook played in the results of the 2016 presidential election, Zuckerberg did a 180 and expanded the company’s ability to stifle the distribution of fallacious articles on the social media platform.
After the deluge of angry constituents that showed up at Republican town halls during the February congressional break, more tools to help individual voices impact policy are always appreciated. According to MIT Technology Review, Facebook’s “I voted” feature sent another 340,000 voters to the polls in 2010 that would not have otherwise voted.
Political scientist James Fowler of the University of California, San Diego weighed in on the effect that social media has on elections:
“Seeing the faces of friends accounted for all this effect on voting. And it affected not only people who saw them, but friends, and friends of friends.”