Keeping it local: Big changes are coming to your Facebook feed

30 Jan 2018

Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook page. Image: dolphfyn/Shutterstock

Facebook has global reach, but wants to bring you news from your neighbourhood.

Mark Zuckerberg is continuing to introduce major changes to Facebook as part of his 2018 resolution to remedy some of the deep-rooted issues on the platform.

At the beginning of January, the CEO resolved to make sure the time users spend on Facebook is not a divisive and unpleasant experience.

News Feed overhaul

Facebook has already announced a major feed overhaul de-emphasising news and other commercial posts, as well as an initiative to promote more trustworthy media organisations with the help of a ranking system collaboration with users.

The third major change announced by Zuckerberg in a post involves a focus on local news from trusted sources. He said that the change is a direct result of requests from users looking to find out more about their immediate communities.

Zuckerberg expressed his hope that more local news would result in a more engaged user base. “Research suggests that reading local news is directly correlated with civic engagement. People who know what’s happening around them are more likely to get involved and help make a difference.”

He also referenced his 2017 US road trip, saying that getting past divisive issues to find common ground was a recurring theme on his journey. “Many people told me they thought that if we could turn down the temperature on the more divisive issues and instead focus on concrete local issues, then we’d all make more progress together.”

At present, the boost in local news content is rolling out in the US but will expand to other countries as 2018 rolls on.

How will this work?

Facebook will identify local publishers as those whose links are clicked on by readers in a tight geographic area, so, if a story is from a local publisher and you either follow the page or see a story shared by a friend, it could show up higher on your personal News Feed.

The emphasis from the company is on “meaningful social interactions with family and friends over passive consumption”. According to Facebook, there are no constraints on which publishers are eligible, which means large local entities will benefit as well as niche publishers in the arts or local sports.

The tech giant is also testing a special feature in some US cities to help people find local news stories. Called ‘Today In’, it is a feed dedicated entirely to local events and announcements. Cities in the testing pool include New Orleans, Louisiana and Little Rock in Arkansas.

The company will be using machine learning to surface content tailored to local audiences, and it said these initiatives are just the beginning of its new strategy.

Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook page. Image: dolphfyn/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects