Yesterday, Facebook launched a petition feature called Community Actions, which enables community users to request changes from their local and national elected officials and government agencies, as reported by TechCrunch.
This feature has been rolled out to users across the United States. Users can create a petition, tag public officials or organizations, and also get their friends to support their cause. Supporters can discuss the topic related to a specific petition with fellow supporters on the page, and also create events and fundraisers.
Facebook will display the number of supporters behind a Community Action, but users will be able to see the names of those they are friends with or can view pages or public figures. This feature comes with a one-click Support option, which is quite visible on the news feed and it reduces the time required for signing up. This, in turn, helps the organizations and individuals to maximize the size of their community.
In a statement to TechCrunch, a Facebook spokesperson said, “Building informed and civically engaged communities is at the core of Facebook’s mission. Every day, people come together on Facebook to advocate for causes they care about, including by contacting their elected officials, launching a fundraiser, or starting a group. Through these and other tools, we have seen people marshal support for and get results on issues that matter to them. Community Action is another way for people to advocate for changes in their communities and partner with elected officials and government agencies on solutions.”
Lately, Facebook has been working towards a number of features designed to get people more involved in their communities. Features such as Town Hall, which gives access to local officials and Candidate feature that allows politicians to pitch on camera, are few of the steps in this direction.
According to TechCrunch, there are some limits wherein users can’t tag President Donald Trump or Vice President Mike Pence. This might prevent users from expressing themselves and putting up petitions for or against them.
Though Facebook will use a combination of user flagging, proactive algorithmic detection, and human enforcers, the new feature might get misused in some way or the other. This feature could be used in a way to pressurize or bully politicians and bureaucrats.
A major issue with this feature is that users can’t stand against a Community Action. The discussion feed might not include the negative points as only the supporters can discuss on the thread. But this might also lead trolls to falsely back them and disturb the entire discussion thread. In a statement to TechCrunch, Facebook said, “Users will have to share a Community Action to their own feed with a message of disapproval, or launch their own in protest.”
The Community Actions might be used to spread some fake awareness and bring petitions which are not for the well-being of the users. If the support count gets manipulated, it might cause trouble as a wrong petition would get support. For example, a few of the communities could falsely manipulate users by using Facebook groups or message threads so that it would look like there’s much more support for a misleading cause. Another example is if a politician causes a community for backing and further manipulating votes based on their false posts and comment threads.
With Facebook’s WhatsApp now working towards preventing the spread of fake news by restricting the forwards to 5 individuals or groups, Facebook’s Community Actions feature might work against it.
Users are giving mixed reactions to this news. Some of the users seem to be excited about this new feature. One of the comments on HackerNews reads, “That’s interesting. I see that Facebook develops more feature to support different initiatives (FB groups, charity pages) and even petition pages.”
Some users think that Facebook would gather users’ data based on political views. This would help the company in organizing various ad campaigns and generating revenue. One of the users commented on HackerNews, “Facebook really doesn’t care too much what the petitions are about, but is mostly interested in gathering more data on its users’ political beliefs so they can allow domestic and foreign campaign spending groups to better target advertisements meant to change or reinforce those beliefs (or suppress civic participation of those with such beliefs) and increase FB’s total share of campaign-related ad spend.”
Some of the users don’t trust Facebook anymore and they think that the new features won’t be secure. Another comment on HackerNews reads, “I’m going to have a really hard time taking any new development coming out of Facebook as genuine, honest or non-privacy invasive. I simply do not foresee my opinion of Facebook, Zuckerberg or anyone still working there changing radically in the near future.”
Others are not interested in any sort of political engagement on social media as they think the views would be manipulated there. Users are requesting for better sign up or verification process which would help keep the fake accounts away.