As Facebook continues to face fierce media scrutiny over how it handles user data, the company may well be wishing for some gentler headlines. So it’s perhaps no accident it’s chosen today to announce the international rollout of a News Feed tweak it made in the US, back in January, that’s designed to inject more local news into users’ feeds.
The tweak to Facebook’s algorithmic recipe is part of wider efforts to tackle the problem of Facebook’s AIs preferring and promoting ‘low quality’ content — at the expense of users’ eyeballs and even community cohesion.
Divisive, politicized social media messages were the medium used by Kremlin agents to try to disrupt the 2016 US presidential election.
Facebook’s response to this existential threat to its business model is an attempt to surface trusted local news — which it says “helps people connect to their communities about the issues that are closest to home”.
Albeit, as my TC colleague Brian Heater previously noted, there is a parallel risk that “a hyperlocal, decentralized version of Facebook’s news feed could ultimately have the effect of further polarizing sources if not balanced with broader, national news coverage”.
Time will tell how this latest unilateral shift by Facebook will shake out for users, publishers and communities around the world.
“Now, people around the world will see more news on Facebook from local sources covering their current city and other cities they may care about,” writes Alex Hardiman, Facebook’s head of news product, and Campbell Brown, head of news partnerships, announcing the global rollout of the local news tweak.
They add that the update is intended to help boost local publishers who cover “multiple, nearby cities reach audiences in those cities”.
“We’ll consider a publisher as local to multiple cities if the people in those cities are more likely than the people outside of those cities to read articles from the publisher’s domain. By expanding the scope of what may be considered local to people, we’re including other cities that people may care about and connecting people to local publishers from those cities.”