A few weeks ago, House majority leader Eric Cantor (R) revealed a new Facebook initiative called the Citizen Cosponsor Project. The app allows people to log in using their Facebook and follow legislation they are interested in (cosponsor a bill). By doing so, they receive first-hand information about a bill and get updates as the bill moves through the legislative process.
People are able to comment on the pending legislation and provide feedback on the bills they cosponsor. After cosponsoring a bill, you can share your bill with others from your Facebook profile.
The point of the app is to allow people to have a “dynamic communications platform that creates a more open, visible, and participatory legislative process. By cosponsoring, it is meant to create the feeling that you can actively participate with the House deliberation over legislation and take government action into your own hands. Initially, it makes sense. Social media has made it increasingly easy for us to communicate with one another. Why shouldn’t it be used to allow citizens to engage more with the policymakers whose actions directly affect their lives?
Although I ultimately decided not allow the app to access my profile information/post on my behalf, what I could access demonstrated an appeal that could certainly get a younger demographic involved in government, simply because it is on Facebook.
I quickly realized that there are more than a few questions that need to be answered, including just how much engagement is actually allowed and how much feedback is taken into account.
Updates: To begin, I am very curious to know where the legislative updates will be coming from. Will they be coming from Cantor’s Republican staff, a partisan perspective in general, or from a neutral standpoint that will provide objective progress on the legislation? The site will need to clarify this in order that the transparent first-hand information they are receiving is not actually filtered first-hand communication coming from a biased perspective.
Cantor says that the site will also help citizens to communicate with their member of Congress through their feedback. How exactly will the app help assure citizens that their comments are actually reaching the House member that represents them and that their issues are accurately being advocated for?
Furthermore, will the Citizen Cosponsor Project provide a medium for people who disagree with the bill to also voice their opinions? Perhaps the app could also include a way to allow people that do not want to sponsor a bill to explain why. That could even help House members working on that particular bill to figure out alterations which could receive the support of the most amount of people.
Transparency: The site says that this new app will improve transparency, but I still have a few reservations about this. Although we cannot expect them to provide live updates with every progression of the bill, I doubt that the behind the scenes knowledge that the Citizen Cosponsor Project suggests that it is allowing citizens to access will be as informative as it suggests.
As with any new platform, the Citizen Cosponsor Project definitely has these issues (among others) to work out. Nevertheless, the premise of the app does seem like a great way to get citizens involved in their government through a medium they would use anyway.