Facebook has launched a petitions feature called Community Actions, which will allow users to notify their local officials of actions that they’d like to see happen.
The feature will begin to roll out to users today who will be able to create a petition, tag relevant public officials or organizations, and get their friends to support their cause. Supporters for any given petition will be able to discuss the topic with fellow supporters on the page, and will also be able to create events and fundraisers.
Facebook says the feature is aimed squarely at organizing around public officials, citing examples that range from a “Moratorium on New Drilling” page in Colorado, to a Philadelphia page asking for better pedestrian safeguards in one location in the city.
Facebook already has vast demonstrable power when it comes to allowing people to organize big events — look no further than the Pantsuit Nation Facebook group to the first Women’s March that was initially organized on the site in 2016. And sites like Change.org have long been the home of people coming together to demand everything from calls to dock congressional pay during a government shutdown to demands that Netflix picks up Firefly for a second season. Facebook is clearly hoping that it can provide the means for its users to organize for the good of their communities.
In recent years, the site has already launched a number of features designed to get people more involved in their communities, such as its Town Hall feature, which facilitates access to local officials, as well as its Candidate feature, which allows political candidates to create pitch videos to constituents. Facebook characterizes its Community Action feature as a way for “people to advocate for changes in their communities and partner with elected officials and government agencies on solutions.”
But as TechCrunch points out, if there’s anything that the last couple of years have demonstrated, it’s that bad actors can really misuse Facebook’s features. While Facebook will reportedly use “a combination of user flagging, proactive algorithmic detection, and human enforcers,” it’s easy to imagine that we’ll see the feature used in ways that it isn’t intended, with users setting up petitions in ways that are obviously decisive, but which are nuanced enough to get past any safeguards that the social media company might have to prevent them. There are some limits already: users can’t tag Presidents, will likely prevent people from immediately issuing a petition in support of their resignations.