A few days before a vote on a new SouthPark townhome project, freshman councilman Tariq Scott Bokhari paced the sidewalk along Sharon Road and pointed his iPhone camera at himself.
“Hello everyone, I’m on scene here…” Bokhari began before changing the camera’s direction to show what he’s looking at. “The first thing you’ll notice is this terrible, terrible sidewalk.”
Over the next seven minutes, Bokhari talked through the rezoning petition he and his colleagues would be voting on that would allow the townhomes to be built. He showed what the homes would be replacing, described how it would benefit SouthPark and even held up a printout with renderings of what the project would look like.
All of this was broadcast live on Facebook, and archived automatically so anyone with a connection to the councilman could weigh in before the vote. Several people popped in to ask questions, and Bokhari pledged answers.
The Facebook Live broadcast is a prime example of how Charlotte’s elected officials are increasingly using the social media platform to connect with voters and make the wheels of government more transparent.
The fact that they’re using Facebook isn’t particularly novel. Politicians have had pages for years that they’ve used to post updates and occasionally interact with their followers.
But live video has added a new and more interactive wrinkle. Elected officials like county commissioner Matthew Ridenhour have used the platform to provide quick commentary after public meetings and to explain actions the government is taking.
And new councilman Braxton Winston live-streamed the public comment period of last week’s city council meeting, using his phone from the dais after an earlier council had stopped televising the proceedings.
The use of live video is one of the early signals of how government will change as a younger generation begins to take office. Bokhari and Winston are in their 30s; Ridenhour just turned 40 a few months ago.
Perhaps following their lead, it appears like city and county staff are moving in the same direction.
The city of Charlotte is also now broadcasting council meetings on Facebook Live, with public affairs staffers responding to questions in real time. Mecklenburg County, too, has begun streaming press conferences for pressing issues like the updates on the hacking attack that paralyzed their computer systems. This also allows people to easily access these meetings from their smartphones for the first time.