The New Stuff

Facebook’s new “Town Hall” feature helps you find and contact your government reps


http://tctechcrunch2011.files.wordpress.com/2017/03/randolph_town_hall.jpg

In Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s nearly 6,000-word manifesto published last month, he laid out a number of global ambitions he had for the social network in the days ahead – including one where its users became more “civically-engaged” and voted more often. Now, it seems Facebook has taken its first steps toward making that possible, through a new feature it’s calling “Town Hall.”

This latest addition has just popped up on the “More” menu in Facebook’s mobile app, and offers a simple way for users to find and connect with their government representatives on a local, state and federal level.

To use Town Hall, you only have to enter in your address – which Facebook says is not displayed or shared (though it doesn’t say it’s not “saved,” so be advised).

This will information will help to populate the following screen with a list of your representatives, all of whom you can follow with just a click of a button. The list includes not just those representing you in the U.S. House and Senate, but also your state legislature and your governor, local council members and your mayor, as well as those in other federal positions, like VP Mike Pence and President Trump.

The list you’ll see will be based on your location, which means you might not have local reps appear – for example, if you live in a smaller town where local officials don’t maintain a Facebook presence.

In addition to being able to follow their Facebook Pages in order to receive their updates in your News Feed, each representative also has a “Contact” button next to their name.

When tapped, you have the option to “Message” them, “Email” them, or visit their Facebook Page. Of course, not all representatives are as available as others. In many cases, there may be no means of contact beyond visiting a Facebook Page.

On their Page, you may be able to dig around to find a phone number or mailing address, if it happens to be published. However, this is definitely not as handy as some of the independent websites that provide this information to you with just a few clicks, including the newer resistance-focused services like Call to Action or 5 Calls, for instance, or even other mobile apps, like Countable.

It would be great to see Facebook enhance its Town Hall resource with the full contact details for all officials going forward, especially given that this is public information and fairly easy to find even on official government websites.

Beyond following your reps and getting in touch, the Town Hall feature applies a bit of peer pressure to get you involved by noting how many of your friends have connected with a government rep via Facebook. This isn’t all that useful beyond the potential psychological impact it has on users, by making them not want to be left out.

At the bottom of the page, you can also toggle voting reminders off or on, so you’ll be alerted when there’s an upcoming election in your area.

Town Hall is hardly Facebook’s first foray into politics. The social network has regularly prompted users to register and to vote through a number of means, including push notifications, banners in its News Feed, Messenger integrations, maps to polls, social sharing features (like “I voted”), and more – including, in this past Presidential Election, an “Election 2016” shortcut in users’ Favorites section on both web and mobile. It also published a voter guide, which included down-ballot propositions and local races.

We’ve asked Facebook for more details as to the status of the Town Hall feature’s rollout, and will update if the company responds.

The feature’s arrival follows several other recent additions to Facebook’s sidebar in recent months, including its new City GuidesWi-Fi Finder, Discover People section, and Weather guide.

Image credit, top: Marcbela (Marc N. Belanger) (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; other images: Facebook; H/T: Jose Gutierrez

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