Facebook has launched a new petition feature that will allow its 2.2 billion users to make political demands on the platform, an initiative that could be empowering but also bring a wave of new problems to the beleaguered company.
TechCrunch reports that the new option, called Community Actions, will allow users to add a title, a description and even tag relevant officials and government agencies as a way to help the petition go viral and prompt others to hit the “support” button.
“Community Actions have their own discussion feed where people can leave comments, create fundraisers, and organize Facebook Events or Call Your Rep campaigns. Facebook displays the numbers of supporters behind a Community Action, but you’ll only be able to see the names of those you’re friends with or that are Pages or public figures,” the tech news site reports.
TechCrunch says that it’s possible users with “fringe agendas” could harness the petitions feature to bully certain groups or otherwise wreak havoc.
“You can imagine misuses like “Crack down on [minority group]” that are offensive or even dangerous but some see as legitimate,” TechCrunch reports.
The Menlo Park, Calif. company, which has struggled to stem the tide of misinformation and fake news on its platform, is reportedly hoping to keep Community Actions more narrowly focused on pushing for government action, as opposed to any random cause that a user could come up with. There are examples of the new petitions here and here.
A Facebook spokesperson gave TechCrunch the following statement on the new initiative:
“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.”
Still, it remains to be seen if Facebook’s team of moderators will be able to make judgment calls about whether a petition is worthwhile or being used for bullying purposes.
As TechCrunch notes: “The trouble is that open access draws out the trolls and grifters seeking to fragment society. Facebook will have to assume the thorny responsibility of shepherding the product towards righteousness and defining what that even means.”
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