Future Tense

Facebook Now Offers New Features to Help Elected Officials Talk to Their Constituents

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivers the commencement address at Harvard University on May 25.

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Eight months after an election that spotlighted the political downsides of its social media services, Facebook is launching three new features aimed at better connecting elected officials with the constituents they represent, TechCrunch reported Thursday.

The newly rolled-out tools are called constituent badges, constituent insights, and district targeting. The opt-in badges allow users to self-identify as constituents of particular political jurisdictions and municipal districts based on verified street addresses they provide to the website. According to TechCrunch, users will be prompted to activate the badges when they interact with their representatives’ Facebook pages, after which the columnar icons will appear next to users’ names each time they comment on something their lawmaker posts. Here’s a video from Facebook showing how the badges work:

The second new feature, constituent insights, lets elected officials to cull information about trending news stories within their districts directly from Facebook itself. The feature gets enabled via a new, admin-only “page insights” feature, which displays popular content localized to specific geographic areas and allows officeholders to weigh in with their own responses.

And as its name implies, the third new tool, district targeting, lets lawmakers make specific posts visible only to potential voters who inhabit particular areas, enabling micro-level messaging and helping collect feedback through constituent-specific posts and polls.

“When we think about civic engagement, we think about building communities of people,” Erin Egan, the company’s vice president of U.S. public policy, said of the new features in a Thursday Roll Call article. “And this is about making sure that people engage with government.”

But the trio of new tools is hardly Facebook’s first foray into the political realm. This year, the company launched Town Hall, which spits out the names and contact information of users’ local, state, and national representatives, along with a streamlined way for denizens of the site to contact those lawmakers through posts. And although the new badges, insights, and district-level targeting are aimed at officeholders rather than voters, they’re outgrowths of those original offerings.

Facebook made the turn toward a more civically minded approach to its business in February. In a mammoth, 6,000-word open letter published online, CEO Mark Zuckerberg pledged to dedicate the company to “developing the social infrastructure for community,” including “civic engagement in the existing political process … to support voting across the world.”

These latest offerings in the company’s civic-engagement buffet are also an effort to rehabilitate Facebook’s tarnished public image. Since the presidential election, the company has drawn flak over how it approaches what it calls “Community Standards”public guidelines that dictate the sort of content users can post and report, as well as what Facebook is allowed to remove—and its CEO’s initial refusals to acknowledge the enabling role it played in spreading misinformation online. Although Zuckerberg acknowledged Facebook’s naysayers in his February letter (“I often agree with those criticizing us that we’re making mistakes,” he wrote), those rhetorical efforts haven’t always been backed by much substance.

But regardless of whether the new capabilities were motivated more by forward-thinkingness or contrition, some lawmakers are already jazzed about Facebook’s newest toys. In an era of tetchy—and sometimes infamously viral—town hall moments between legislators and voters, “It is helpful that we’re able to more effectively reach our constituents as opposed to having conversations with those outside of our district,” Jessica McFaul, communications director for Rep. Jeff Denham, R–Calif., told Roll Call. And with all the political play-acting Zuckerberg has been doing over the past few months, maybe he’ll end up using them himself one day.