Facebook expanding 'Today In' local news feature

Facebook expanding 'Today In' local news feature
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Facebook on Wednesday announced that it is expanding its local news feature "Today In" to 400 cities across the U.S as well as Australia.

The feature aggregates information from local media outlets, government, community organizations and first responders. Users can either check in directly at their "Today In" page or allow the feature to promote local news on their main newsfeed.

The latest expansion will mostly reach small and midsize cities, as well as "news deserts," places that lack a robust local media presence. It was previously only available in a few dozen U.S. locations. 

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Facebook said it is seeking to aid "news deserts" by supplementing their "Today In" features with "relevant content from surrounding areas." 

The company is still working out the kinks involved in expanding the feature to large cities such as New York City, where there is an enormous amount of news to promote.

The expansion comes as Facebook seeks to stave off critics who say its news features have promoted partisan divisions and misinformation. The company has been heavily criticized for failing to halt the spread of "fake news," particularly during the 2016 presidential election. 

Facebook began testing "Today In" after a survey found that 50 percent of users said they wanted to see more local news and community information on the platform. 

The tech giant on Wednesday announced they it will also be testing a "local alerts" feature in 100 locations. The test feature will promote high-priority posts from first responders and local government on peoples' newsfeeds, as well as send constituents notifications when local leaders need to communicate quickly.

The announcement pointed out that "local alerts" aided first responders during Hurricane Florence earlier this year.

"People tell us it is important to receive timely, local updates in situations that directly affect them or that require them to take action, such as major road closures, blackouts or natural disasters," Facebook wrote. 

Facebook, in a statement to The Hill, said the expanded feature is part of its effort to be "a place people turn to for information."