Facebook wants to make it easier for people to find local news from vetted sources.
The social network is testing a new section inside its app called “Today In,” a feed made up entirely of local news, events and announcements.
The test is running in just six cities for now: New Orleans, La.; Little Rock, Ark.; Billings, Mont.; Peoria, Ill.; Olympia, Wash.; and Binghamton, N.Y. Facebook users who self-identify as living in those areas will be able to visit the new section to see local information, like stories from local publishers or emergency updates from local authorities.
Facebook is using machine-learning software to surface content in this new section. Local news publishers who appear there will all be approved and vetted by the company’s News Partnerships team, which is overseen by former NBC news anchor Campbell Brown, according to a company spokesperson.
The company says this is all part of Facebook’s Journalism Project initiative, which Facebook launched shortly after last year’s U.S. presidential election in which so-called fake news spread on the service, leading many to point to Facebook as part of the reason for Donald Trump’s surprising victory.
The company has tested and launched a handful of other news-related features this year as part of the effort, including a breaking news label for publishers and a label identifying stories disputed by outside fact-checkers. (It stopped using the “disputed” tags in December.)
All of this plays into the company’s broader efforts to cleanse the service of false information; hand-selecting local publishers to appear inside this new section of the app should (theoretically) help keep fake news to a minimum.
The question is whether or not the section will benefit local publishers. It’s possible that being part of a separate, local section of the app will help drive more traffic back to publishers’ stories and websites where they can make money through advertising, but there is no way for publishers to make money off the new local section at launch.
Even generating that extra traffic will depend on whether or not Facebook users frequent the new section. Facebook plans to alert people in the six test cities that the new feature exists, but after that, “Today In” will appear in the menu (☰) where Facebook has dozens of other lesser-used sections of the app that you might easily forget about.
Eventually, Facebook wants to roll this out to more cities. And users will eventually be able to follow local cities that they don’t currently live in (a childhood hometown, for example), according to a company spokesperson.
“Local” has been a bit of a theme for Facebook over the past 18 months. It started surfacing more posts from local politicians last fall and is expanding Marketplace, its Craigslist-style platform for people to sell used goods to their neighbors.
In November, Facebook also rebranded its standalone events app, calling it “Facebook Local,” which shows users where to find restaurants and nearby events. That app is completely separate from this new local news section, according to a company spokesperson.