Facebook today announced three new features that will make its service far more useful to elected officials, according to TechCrunch. The primary goal is to help politicians better connect with constituents in their designated district. But at a deeper level, Facebook is making it easier than ever before for these officials to gain insight into the thoughts and behaviors driving their communities, transforming the social network into a data gold mine for predicting voter behavior and all sorts of other valuable political findings.
These new tools are an expansion of the company’s existing Town Hall feature. Town Hall, first introduced in March, is a way for users to better connect with and reach out to local representatives via Facebook. It’s all part of a broader effort to help make Facebook a tool for improving civic discourse, as per CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s revised manifesto released in February.
Now, instead of seeing names and faces of potential constituents, elected officials can see a special badge that designates a Facebook user as someone who lives in their district. This is an opt-in feature that will let you be identified by which district you live in, based on the address only you provide. Facebook says it will cut down on people pretending to be in a district they don’t belong in by limiting the number of times you can change your address in Town Hall, as well wiping constituent badges from past posts if you do happen to change your address.
Another new tool for elected officials comes in the form of the Page Insights feature that will let those politicians discover which news stories are popular in their district. This will let an official, or a Page administrator for that politician, get a drop-down list of news stories, which can then be linked in a post on the page alongside a personal stance on the issue at hand. This latter tool will be coupled with a third new feature called Direct Targeting. This will let an elected official send out a post or poll to only those living in their district.
All of these combined together provide a very powerful toolset for politicians to begin engaging more deeply with those they represent, and learning from them as well. However, it all depends on whether Facebook users opt-in to these features and start using Town Hall earnestly. That remains to be seen, but adding these types of features can only strengthen Facebook’s role as a place for meaningful political discussion, and not just a place to get rant angrily at random acquaintances and family members with whom you disagree.