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Facebook wants to make civic engagement easier with Town Hall

Why it matters to you

With Facebook's Town Hall feature, finding your rep is as easy as pressing a button.

Civic engagement is hard. Really hard. A recent study found that millennials in 2016 were significantly less politically engaged than previous generations. While the cause is subject to debate, the effect is clear: Declining voter turnout. Facebook is trying to turn things around with Town Hall, a new feature that lets users locate, follow, and contact local state and federal government representatives.

Town Hall, which can be accessed via Facebook’s slide-out menu on mobile and the web, provides a list of politicians at the local, state, and federal level, and buttons to follow their respective Facebook pages or contact them via text message, phone call, or email. Facebook said it is working to address gaps in information, such as missing phone numbers from reps without Facebook pages.

Some of Town Hall’s features have made their way into Facebook’s News Feed. If you like or comment on a post made by an elected official, for example, a new feature in the comments section will provide a quick way to call, message, or email the rep. If you choose to do so, you’ll be prompted to share a post indicating that you’ve contacted the representative.

Those posts won’t be shared publicly — Facebook’s limiting visibility to those who already liked or commented an elected official’s post. The social network said that is to prevent the News Feed from becoming too politicized.

Facebook’s also offering Election Reminders. Thanks to upgraded civic data infrastructure, the company now automates reminders for thousands of elections across the U.S. They will appear for all state, county, and municipal elections in the U.S. for areas with a population of more than 10,000 people.

Facebook, which has been running national election reminders at the top of News Feed since 2008, claims it has made an impact on voter turnout. According to the journal Nature and the the social network’s research, its 2010 message impacted real-world turnout by 340,000 votes.

The new features are a part of Facebook’s wide-ranging effort to increase civic engagement.

“Giving people a voice is a principle our community has been committed to since we began,” Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a 6,000-word outline of the social network’s mission. “As we look ahead to building the social infrastructure for a global community, we will work on building new tools that encourage thoughtful civic engagement. Empowering us to use our voices will only become more important.”