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Facebook says it will push more local news stories into your News Feed

It’s the third big change Facebook has announced in the last month. And at least one more is coming.

Mark Zuckerberg sits at a restaurant counter with strangers
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Facebook says it will bring you more local news stories in your news feed, even if you didn’t ask to see them.

“Starting today, we’re going to show more stories from news sources in your local town or city,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg says in a post announcing the latest change to his company’s News Feed.

The change means that people who follow a local news publication will see more stories from that publication — and that people who don’t follow a local news outlet will see more from local publications, too, if people in their network are sharing a particular story.

Our next update on our 2018 focus to make sure Facebook isn't just fun but also good for your well-being and for...

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Monday, January 29, 2018

Zuckerberg says the move is at least partly the result of the self-guided tour of the U.S. he conducted last year. “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,” he writes.

This is the third announcement about changes to Facebook’s News Feed that the company has made in the last month. The first one announced a general overhaul for the feed, which will de-emphasize news and other commercial content. Then the company said it would try to promote more “trustworthy” publications — once its users told them which publications were trustworthy.

There should be at least one more announcement to come, which will presumably focus on “informative” content.

That’s because in a post he published on Jan. 19, Zuckerberg said his company wanted to promote “news that is trustworthy, informative and local,” and now he’s covered two of the three categories.

Back to local: Facebook says it will identify local publishers by looking at ones that are “clicked on by readers in a tight geographic area.”

In theory, that could include national publishers like the New York Times, which has a concentration of readers in the New York City area. But it’s really meant to promote local and regional publishers. Facebook will start by looking at U.S.-based publishers but says it intends to expand the effort into other countries.

Facebook says the boost won’t apply to any particular kind of content — beyond conventional news stories, it will also boost “local sports, arts and human-interest stories,” the company says in a blog post.

Facebook’s announcement is a reminder that even though it says it wants to cut down on the amount of news in your feed, it won’t cut out news altogether. Zuckerberg says that news used to make up 5 percent of an average Facebook user’s feed, and now it will shrink down to 4 percent.

What Facebook is also doing, without spelling it out explicitly, is trying to cut down on fringe publishers, or bad actors that are deliberately trying to game the system.

The “trustworthiness” criteria the company announced earlier makes it harder for unknown publications to start showing up in your feed. And emphasizing local also makes it harder for edge cases.

It’s one thing to gin up fake stories about pedophile-friendly pizza parlors that spread around the internet; it’s another to create bespoke fake news about your neighborhood pizza parlor, since that takes a lot more work. We’ll see how the “informative” tweak works.

It’s hard to argue that the tweak will dramatically help local publishers, since it won’t solve the underlying business problems that make local news a very difficult proposition. But more exposure isn’t a bad thing for those publications, or their readers.

It’s also the second time Facebook has announced a local news initiative in the last month. It previously said it was testing “Today In,” a dedicated module for local news in six cities.

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