Social media giant Facebook has launched a new product called “Today in” that aims to push local news and information to those with a profile on the platform.
It’s understood this will be in addition to local news that already appears in Facebook’s News Feed and on publishers’ pages.
The feature is being tested initially across six US cities: New Orleans, Louisiana; Little Rock, Arkansas; Billings, Montana; Peoria, Illinois; Olympia, Washington and Binghamton, New York.
It will include community updates, group discussions and local events, along with a local news component.
There are no plans yet for an international test, despite the new product launching as Facebook, along with other technology platforms such as Google, faces increased scrutiny from regulatory bodies across the world.
In December, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) was formally directed by the government to investigate the role of these companies in spreading fake news stories and diverting advertising away from traditional media.
When he launched the inquiry, ACCC chairman Rod Sims said one part of the review would be the impact of the digital platform on the choice and quality of news and journalism available to the public.
“When you’re getting news articles, do you know enough about how they’re fashioned for you?” he said.
A Facebook spokeswoman at the time said it took its “role in the media ecosystem very seriously and invest significantly in products that support publishers”.
Anti-trust regulators in Israel are also looking into the platforms, while tensions have been seen across Europe.
Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has said it is his personal New Year’s resolution to “fix Facebook” in 2018, including the recruitment of experts to look at “questions of history, civics, political philosophy, media, government, and of course technology”.
Local news has been of enduring interest to Facebook. In David Kirkpatrick’s 2010 book The Facebook Effect, he said the rationale given by Mr Zuckerberg for the News Feed was that a “squirrel dying in front of your house may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa”.
The Finkelstein Inquiry into media regulation found that by 2011, 60 per cent of Australians used the internet as a source of local news.
In December last year, Vivid Social calculated active Facebook users at 15 million in Australia.
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