Facebook, the social network with more than 2 billion users worldwide, is testing a new section in its app for local news, events and announcements. The “Today In” section is being tested in six cities: New Orleans, La.; Little Rock, Ark.; Billings, Mont.; Peoria, Ill.; Olympia, Wash.; and Binghamton, N.Y., per Recode.
Facebook users who identify themselves as residents of those areas will see local information like emergency updates from local authorities or news content from local publishers. Facebook’s News Partnerships team will vet the sources of news as part of its Journalism Project to prevent the spread of “fake news,” but the company won’t curate the content, per Adweek.
Facebook plans to alert people in the six test cities about the new feature. Eventually, “Today In” will appear in the menu where Facebook has other sections of its mobile app. The company plans to add the service to more cities, and let people choose to follow local news from other areas.
Former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill once quipped, “All politics is local,” and the same rule seems to apply to content as companies like Facebook and Google add services to help people find nearby events, news updates and alerts. Facebook in November rebranded its separate events app as “Facebook Local” to show users where to find restaurants and businesses
Of course, the push into hometown content is part of the company’s efforts to grab a greater share of local ad revenue. Local advertising revenue on mobile platforms is forecast reach $19 billion this year, making mobile media the third-most popular behind direct mail ($38.5 billion) and local TV ($20.8 billion), per researcher BIA/Kelsey. Mobile’s share is predicted to grow from 12.6% of local ad spending next year to 19.2% by 2022. Mobile local advertising tactics — such as geo-fencing, click-to-call and click-to-map — will become more popular among national brands that are putting money into increasingly available and “currently undervalued” mobile local ad inventory, BIA/Kelsey said.
Facebook isn’t providing local publishers with a way to make money from the new section, Recode said. Publishers will have to depend on their own ad sales to monetize their stories and websites from the traffic that Facebook generates. Publishers that use its Instant Articles quick-loading rich-media format have the same monetization opportunities as they do for Instant Articles published on their pages, Adweek reported.
The different political persuasions of audiences are likely to affect how they react to Facebook’s vetting process that is intended to prevent the spread of political propaganda disguised as news. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton included Facebook among the influencers she blamed for swaying some voters to favor Republican rival Donald Trump, who unexpectedly won the 2016 election. Facebook last year revealed that 3,000 Russia-linked ads aimed at U.S. audiences appeared on its network. Whether local content becomes as potentially contentious as national news remains to be seen as the U.S. enters mid-term election season this year.