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Facebook rolls out its local news 'Today In' feature to more than 400 U.S. cities

Image: Silhouettes of mobile users next to a screen projection of the Faceb
Silhouettes of mobile users next to a screen projection of the Facebook logo on March 28, 2018.   -   Copyright  Dado Ruvic Reuters file
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Facebook announced on Wednesday that is expanding its feature that spreads local news and community information from governments to users based on their geographic location.

"Today In," which Facebook started testing last January in five U.S. cities, will now be available in more than 400 cities in the U.S., the company said in a blog post.

The dedicated section collects and aggregates relevant stories for local communities in a packaged form in the user's News Feed. Facebook said the goal is to allow users to "catch up on news, events, and discussions happening in your community." The content comes from a mix of local news, community pages, and municipalities.

Facebook announced it would prioritize local news content in the News Feed in January 2018. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's chief executive, said in a blog post: "People consistently tell us they want to see more local news on Facebook. Local news helps us understand the issues that matter in our communities and affect our lives."

While Zuckerberg emphasized the company's interest in promoting local news, Anthea Watson Strong, Facebook's product manager for local news and information, said the social network didn't want to rush into creating the feature platform.

"We wanted to get this right," Strong said. "We didn't want to rush into expanding until we were driving value for these communities and their pages."

Strong, who grew up in Tallahassee, Florida, said she follows her community using the "Today In" feature and is pleasantly surprised by the variety of local news she is able to get, that she may have previously missed out on because she does not follow every local page in the community.

"I loved seeing the Halloween parade from the school I attended while growing up and the Myers Park pool where I was a lifeguard," Strong says.

This move comes as the company is battling widespread concerns about fake news, data privacy, and the hiring of a public affairs company with an in-house "fake news" operation.

Facebook faced additional criticism this week when Zuckerberg did not attend a U.K. Parliament hearing.

Facebook's role in the news world has also been a subject of skepticism, particularly after announcing in early 2018 that it would be showing less news in its News Feed.

"We are super aware of the mistakes that have been made in the past. We are trying to be careful every time we make a move, how is this going to affect the community? How could this be misused?" Strong said. "This is a particular type of information that is hard to find. People want local news and information. It's about the stuff happening down the street."