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Social media and politics: is Facebook the place for debate?

Could social media replace the debating chamber in politics? Municipalities have an unprecedented opportunity to reach and engage local residents in political debate over Facebook. But will people welcome this interaction?


In January 2012 the Danish municipality of Høje-Taastrup launched its new Facebook page.

“Our initial idea was to open up this channel so we could communicate better with citizens, promote the municipality and enhance our customer service by answering people’s questions,” explains Birgitte Städe, Communications Consultant for the town. “Occasionally we would receive political questions which we would answer by contacting the chair of the relevant council committee. The person would then answer either by posting a reply using their own Facebook profile, or asking us to post on their behalf.”

Ms Städe says that this odd mix of political discussion and administrative information on one page seems to work. “You just have to draw a very clear distinction between administrative and political answers. There must be no risk that the municipality is anything but balanced and fair when it comes to political issues.”

Høje-Taastrup started out by launching two Facebook-pages: one for political debate and one for everyday life in the city (i.e. administrative issues). However, it soon became apparent that most citizens preferred the “everyday” Facebook-page. From a citizen perspective it was not logical or user-friendly to have two pages, so the two pages were merged into one.

“We like having one page for all of our Facebook activity. It shows good levels of engagement. Occasionally someone may log on to ask us a mundane question, spot some on-going political discussion and join the debate. This is what we want: more citizen involvement.”

Open the floor to public debate

Høje-Taastrup has also used live web streaming of meetings to help citizens get more involved in debates. All public meetings are broadcast live over the web, a smartphone app and on Facebook.

“Facebook lets people ask questions about the meeting’s agenda and express their own views. Queries are answered by committee chairs or, if they are more party political, we ask the leaders of political parties to post their answers.”

The web streaming proved especially popular in the run up to the town’s municipal elections in 2013. More than 1000 citizens watched a pre-election meeting and political debate between all the candidates.

“There’s consensus among the politicians that the municipality’s Facebook presence should remain neutral, but offer a platform for debate and engagement. We are involving more citizens in the political debate through social media, although the numbers are still relatively low.

“We still have to find new ways for citizens to express their opinions and ideas in ways that fit with our current lifestyle and culture. People are comfortable about posting comments about their lives for all their friends to see. We just have to find ways to encourage this kind of openness to drive decisions at the top.”

“Facebook is very valuable for local government to reach citizens and have conversations.”

Summary of benefits

  • Reach new audiences, especially young people

  • Have conversations with citizens

  • Facilitate political debate

Next steps

Fancy Facebook? Analyse your municipality’s digital maturity and readiness for social media and play our social media game.

Further reading

  • Guidelines for Facebook – Karlstad

Web links


Birgitte Städe, Communication Consultant, Høje-Taastrup Municipality, Denmark. Email:

Birgitte Städe has been leading the Opening Up project in Høje-Taastrup and has worked with colleagues to launch Høje-Taastrup on social media, primarily the municipality’s official Facebook-page.