On Wednesday, President Barack Obama stopped by the Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto to hold a town hall meeting that was live streamed to an even broader audience. As Facebook continues to play an integral role in American politics, it does prompt us to think about how a third party Facebook town hall forum could shake up the discourse.
While some would like to paint Wednesday’s meeting as highly partisan, I would remind critics that the company hosted George W. Bush back in November 2010 to discuss his memoir “Decision Points,” making him the first U.S. president to answer questions live on the social networking site.
Facebook has done an excellent job at facilitating a two-way engagement between citizen and candidate/government official no matter which partisan label. In some respects, it’s this ability to engage that co-founder Chris Hughes leveraged after leaving the company to help President Obama’s 2008 victory.
With pages such as “U.S. Politics on Facebook” and “Facebook Washington DC,” users on both sides of the aisle are alerted to when and where they can interact with public officials online. A soon-to-be challenger to President Obama in 2012, former Minnesota Gov.Tim Pawlenty used President Obama’s Facebook event to take questions on what issues the president should address during his live town hall meeting.
In an interview with David Kirkpatrick, author of The Facebook Effect, founder Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook and other forces on the internet operate in a way that facilitates a more open and transparent society. It fosters a community where people are able to operate in a “gift economy,” whereby they’re able to see the contributions of others in a large community. Zuckerberg said that it’s this factor that puts the responsibility on companies and organizations to “be more good and trustworthy.”
How much more does this new transparency apply when it comes to holding government officials accountable for their actions and ensuring that they’re listening to the people’s genuine concerns? “A more transparent world creates a better-governed world and a fairer world,” Zuckerberg told Kirkpatrick.
A more transparent society would all the more be realized if Facebook were to open up the town hall floor to a string of third party candidates willing to make their contribution to the political system, be it at the local, state, or federal level. As social networking continues to grow in popularity, and as frustration with the two-party political system continues to manifest itself, perhaps it would be consistent with Mark Zuckerberg’s vision to take such action. On the most prominent platform in existence today, it would give a megaphone to third party candidates and demonstrate that there are others besides those within the two-party system who want to challenge the status quo.
With a Facebook town hall meeting devoted exclusively to independent voices who don’t share traditional party labels, I would venture to say that it would add true competition to the current system. The social network has an audience of more than 100 million in the United States, which means there are always people connected and ready to listen, especially when Democrats and Republicans continue to receive dismal approval ratings.