Facebook Gets More Political With 'Community Petitions'
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Though usage trends have changed and engagement declined, Facebook has made itself indispensable to millions through features like Events, Fundraisers, Groups, Pages and other community organization tools.
Now the network is pushing event further into local activism with Community Actions, a new petition feature allowing users to rally around a cause and tag public officials.
As TechCrunch reports, Community Actions will start rolling out in the U.S. this week. The feature essentially builds Change.org-style petitions into the Facebook News Feed, letting users add a title, description, and image for their petition and tag local government agencies and officials. From a Community Action, users can then create related events, fundraisers, call your representative drives, or join the petition with a click of a button.
Users will be able to see the number of supporters for any given Community Action and the names of any friends or public pages supporting it, but not the full list of supporters. They also won't be able to tag President Trump or Vice President Pence in a Community Action.
Facebook took a first step in this direction with its Town Hall feature to inform users when to vote, who their elected officials are, and how to contact them via email, phone, and Facebook Messenger. It's part of the platform's larger push toward localization that also includes investing in local publishers and a community center-style hub called Today In for aggregating local news and information.
Facebook is giving examples of Community Actions like lobbying local officials to build an arts center or oppose drilling projects, and the petition feature could certainly be a powerful tool for good in rallying local support around worthwhile causes. The problems lie in how the tool could be used for disingenuous purposes given Facebook's perennial struggles to moderate its own content and react quickly enough when its apps and features are misused on a mass scale.
Community Actions is inherently more dangerous because it creates a frictionless mechanism by which a mob mentality can quickly gain momentum as countless users smash the "Support" button and @ their local representatives. Just when we thought Facebook might have learned something about how fast its apps and tools can spread misinformation.
By doing what it always does—rolling out features that simplify and optimize a social action for instant virality—Facebook is opening up another avenue that can potentially be exploited for political ends.