Facebook Experimenting With Promoting Local News In Its App

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Facebook is presently experimenting with a feature that promotes local news outlets in its main mobile app, Recode reported Wednesday, citing official communication from the social media giant. The functionality is called "Today In" and appears in the form of a new section present in the app. The Menlo Park, California-based company is running its latest test in six cities throughout the United States and it's currently unclear when its availability may expand to more areas. For now, users whose profiles list them as living in Binghamton, NY, Little Rock, AR, New Orleans, LA, Peoria, IL, Billings, MR, and Olympia, WA, can expect to encounter the feature in the coming days. Facebook didn't clarify whether the test includes Android devices but the iOS app is part of it, as suggested by the first promotional screenshots depicting the platform seen below.

In practice, the service inserts the name of one's local area into its title that it advertises inside the Facebook app, showing up as a tool saying e.g. "Today In New Orleans" or "Today In Binghamton." The newly introduced section presents a combination of stories posted by local news outlets and authorities, as well as general information about the area such as details on upcoming events. The platform is essentially a news feed of its own, albeit highly localized in nature, as it also highlights content previously liked or viewed by your friends and prioritizes it over other stories. The system is said to be part of Facebook's Journalism Project and should hence become available on a global level at some point in the future. The experimental version of the service doesn't offer any monetization capabilities but should still be financially beneficial to local publishers in an indirect manner as it's expected to drive additional traffic to their websites.

Like many other functionalities recently debuted by Facebook, the "Today In" section largely relies on machine learning to identify content it deems suitable for featuring. Artificial intelligence technologies still aren't the ones who decide on the stories that end up being promoted by Facebook through the new service. Instead, that decision falls on the firm's News Partnerships division helmed by Campbell Brown, ex-NBC news anchor responsible for a wide variety of the firm's media activities, including its ongoing fight against misinformation. While the pre-2017 Facebook would have likely tried entirely relying on AI solutions for powering such a feature, the global problem with "fake news" prompted it to take a different, more human approach to content curation on its platform in recent times.

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