Millions of people reached for their phone on June 9, and checked Facebook for the result of the UK General Election.
Now, you may or may not be one of those people yourself, but there’s no disputing that many of us turn to social media as our primary source for big news. Through the night, Facebook was a place where we could express feelings about the results as they came in, share news stories and ask questions: it gives us a rounded view of an event like an election, quite unlike any you’ll receive from traditional media.
And the morning after, those logging in to Facebook may have seen something like this — an invitation to follow your newly-elected or re-elected MP and other elected representatives, from local councillors to MEPs:
We’re glad to say that mySociety has been working alongside Facebook to help make this happen.
Reaching people where they are
mySociety has a mission to make democracy more accessible for everyone, and via our websites TheyWorkForYou and WriteToThem, we serve and inform more than 400,000 UK citizens per month.
That figure has, as we’d expect, spiked in the last few weeks as people rush to check their MPs’ track records, all the better to cast an informed vote; but all the same, we’re well aware that 400,000 users is only a small proportion of the country’s electorate.
What’s more, our research has consistently shown that our services don’t adequately reach the people that need them most: our typical user is male, reasonably affluent, well-educated, older and white — I mean, we’re glad to be there for everyone, but generally speaking this is a demographic that can inform itself quite readily without any extra help.
That’s not a problem Facebook has, though, with their 32 million UK users. 75% of them log in on a daily basis, and almost half are under the age of 30*.
That’s why we were so keen to join forces with the Facebook Civic Engagement team, to help this large online audience see who their representatives are today.
Facebook for engagement
You may not have been aware that Facebook has a dedicated political engagement team — unless you came to TICTeC this year, of course, in which case you’d have seen a walkthrough of the extensive research that’s gone into their election offerings globally — but if you use Facebook at all, and if you’re in a country that has recently had an election, you’ve probably seen some of their work.
Over the last few weeks in the UK, people on Facebook were alerted to each stage of the electoral process. They were invited to check who their candidates were and what they stood for; offered a reminder to vote and provided information on where and how to do so; and finally, encouraged to share the fact that they had voted, tapping into the proven peer encouragement effect.
mySociety behind the scenes
Thanks to our experience running TheyWorkForYou and WriteToThem, plus the support we receive from Commercial Evaluations and their Locator Online service and our involvement with Democracy Club’s WhoCanIVoteFor.co.uk, we have access to accurate and up-to-date data on candidates and representatives at every level, from local councillors up to MEPs, and including MPs — all linked to the relevant constituencies.
In all, this totaled around 23,000 people. What we needed to discover was how many of them were on Facebook — and could we accurately link our records to their Facebook pages?
Working together with Facebook, we built an admin tool that displayed likely pages to our team, on the basis of names, locations and the really giveaway information, such as ‘Councillor’, ‘MP’ or the constituency name in the page title. Some representatives didn’t have individual pages, but ran a party page; those counted too (and of course, a fair proportion of representatives have no Facebook presence at all).
While our tool filtered the results reasonably well, it was still necessary to make a manual check of every record to ensure that we were linking to the correct representative, and not, say, someone who happened to have the same name and live in the same town. We needed to link, of course, only to ‘official’ pages; not representatives’ personal pages full of all those things we use Facebook for on a day-to-day basis. Those holiday snaps, Candy Crush results and cat memes won’t help constituents much: what we were looking for was the kind of page where constituents could message their reps, find out about surgery times, and get the latest news from their constituency.
Now of course, until the results came in, no-one knew precisely which candidates would be MPs! So a small crack team of mySociety people worked through Thursday night to do the final matching. It was a very long night, but we hope that the result will be an awful lot more people following their representatives, and so quite effortlessly becoming more politically engaged, thanks to a platform which they already visit on a regular basis.
One of the projects we have supported in the past, KąVeikiaValdžia.lt has celebrated its first Birthday yesterday!
Emilis Dambauskas has sent us the below visual to remind us (and our readers) how the site looked like a year ago:
Today, the design is simplified to the search option and links to the most popular topics, as we have explained not long time ago on our blog:
KąVeikiaValdžia.lt has gained a lot of audience through the first year of its work, so I am really happy that the developers are sharing the starts with us (once again impressing us with the transparent approach to everything they do):
If you go to the main site today, you will find that the current layout also contains their Facebook widget, which is something that gains on importance even more this week, as Emilis is looking at even more engagement with their current and hopefully new audiences via this particular social network. Starting next week Emilis will set up separate Facebook fan pages for activities of various Lithuanian MP’s feeding information on each of them directly from the KąVeikiaValdžia.lt policy feed. That means around 140 Facebook fan pages to administrate, so we do not know what to expect in reality.
Emilis wants to give Facebook users the opportunity to follow the activities of their MP’s within the social network, and provide the MP’s themselves with yet another channel to reach out to the community. People will be able to follow the updates there, MP’s will be able to add their own bits, though at this stage Emilis seems to prefer to maintain the admin rights to those pages. He will ensure the transparency of the idea by posting specific information on each of the pages explaining the process and providing the links: to the original feed from the KąVeikiaValdžia.lt site but also links to other fan pages of each MP. Each fan page will also contain a disclaimer that it is not the official Facebook presence of the MP. Initially Emilis is looking at setting up fan pages for those MP’s who already know the policy feed and are in touch with him (one of the contacted MP’s was happy about the idea).
Considering the content of all 140 fan pages will be automated, we will have to wait and see what the actual workload and feedback to this idea will be. I am personally very excited about it and cannot wait to see first pages – I have asked Emilis to share the links with us on our open Facebook group. Feel free to join us there, but we will keep you posted on the blog as well.
In the meantime a question to other developers – would the idea work in your country? Let us know!;)
We are using this blog to update you on recent developments in CEE MySociety and supported projects. This is the place we use for start of discussion. However we would also like to provide you with channels for reactions and on-going dialogue, as well as more access to what we do. So if you want to talk to us in the group, please join us on Facebook here. If you prefer Twitter, you can follow us here! Come over and say hi!