Facebook has recently rolled out a new feature called Town Hall. Which allows people to connect with politicians. When I say connect, I mean complain. Because what other reason do we have to connect with politicians? All joking aside, I really like the idea of this. The intent is to allow people to connect with their politicians to be able to provide feedback. The feature also gives you the opportunity to learn who your elected officials are, and reminds you of upcoming elections.
Which is all great, if you ask me. I like the fact that it gives a platform (for lack of a better term) to engage constituents. Sure, you have always been able follow politicians on Twitter and Facebook, but it sounds like this will give you the opportunity to interact with them. Or does it? One article I was reading indicated that it’s no different from the old-fashioned letter writing. The feedback/information (or whatever you want to call it) gets put in the queue and you may or may not hear from anyone. So does this really allow you to get closer to your politicians?
That remains to be seen, but it does have some other interesting features. Such as notifying you that there is an election, and urging you to get out and vote. Voter turn out is never as good as it could be. Giving people a false sense of who actually wins. Maybe they win with 51% of the votes, but out of how many? In Canada, the average voter turn out is around the 50% mark, so essentially you’re getting elected by only 25% of the population. And how is that democratic? So I see this as a positive. It might not translate into bodies actually voting, but it can’t hurt. The younger generations are engaging in a much different way. So if this helps and brings 10% more people out to the polls, I see it as a win.
Further, I see this as an education tool. A lot of people don’t know who their local elected officials are. Or even what kinds of things that each level of government controls. Facebook Town Hall gives you at least the information on who the elected officials are. I follow a few local politicians on Twitter, in the City where I live. I do get some information from their Twitter accounts, but mostly only in the ward that they represent. And my ward Councillor doesn’t Tweet all that often. Which leads me to my next thought – what kinds of information is going to be available from Facebook Town Hall? For example, am I only going to be notified about events in my City. Or will I find out about when Council is seeking feedback?
Mark Zuckerberg has indicated his reason for adding this to the platform was to push it away from just being social media. And just connecting friends and family. Not only giving it another use, but also trying to make a difference in the world. I tend to be fairly engaged from a civics perspective. I do know what is going on in my City, and I owe that in most part to following these politicians on Twitter. That being said, it doesn’t always make me want to go out and find out more about the project. Am I the norm? Am I above average when it comes to being engaged? What I do think is that Facebook Town Hall will allow people to be more engaged. And again, that is extremely positive.
When I was reading about it, I wondered where it was a couple of years ago. Could this type of platform have helped with a not-so-recent election? Urging people to get out and vote. Maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference. But I think the idea of the platform will help. Will this take away from actual Town Hall type meetings? Or other types of public meetings? Maybe it will offer cities the ability to consult in a different way. In a more interactive way. Instead of having staff attend a series of public meetings to get feedback on a particular topic, maybe the next step for this platform is to have an interactive component. Staff can make a video (or live stream) and let people respond without having to be physically present.
My tendency is to find gaps in these types of platforms. Not because I think they’re necessarily bad, but my brain has been trained from a gaps analysis perspective. So I tend to look at this type of platform and pick it apart. I think that this is a good start to something that could be great. Locally, I know that some municipalities seek feedback through Facebook groups for some parks type projects. Maybe this is a game changer in how feedback is collected by government.