Tech

Facebook News went live in the U.S. today

The new section focuses heavily on local news across 6,000 towns and cities.

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Facebook News, the social network's new section aggregating articles from local and national publishers, went live in the U.S. today. The company first announced the feature in October 2019 and has since been working to bring onboard more outlets, particularly smaller ones spread across the country.

News is kind of buried within the app right now — you need to visit the bookmark menu and hunt for it, though if you look at it often Facebook will place it in your navigation bar. From News you'll see a collection of articles ranging from breaking news to specific topics, such as "COVID-19 News."

Facebook says that publishers can be included in News if they have a large audience and follow certain standards around integrity. Signals such as misinformation identified by fact-checkers will help determine whether a publication is allowed to join, though Facebook doesn't have a good track-record policing content — it received pushback during the announcement of News when it was learned that right-wing outlet Breitbart is being included in the tab. Facebook made an effort to stress that while it offered some publishers cash as an incentive to join the News tab, it did not pay Breitbart to participate.

Publishers deserve more — Facebook has a long history of launching initiatives to support journalism only to lose interest and abandon them after publishers already invested resources heavily into the programs. The social network at one point encouraged publishers to invest in new video shows with promises of big traffic, for instance, but then changed course and pulled back promotion of them in the News Feed, causing many publishers to lose audiences and be forced to cancel shows.

The journalism industry has been ravaged in recent years as platforms like Facebook and Google siphon up the vast majority of online advertising revenue. Critics of the platforms argue they should do more to support journalism financially because publishers create the content that draws people to Facebook and Google. Consumers find articles on Facebook that inspire them to buy something, but businesses ultimately give their advertising dollars to the platform instead because Facebook has such a large audience and easy targeting tools. In that sense, Facebook and Google are essentially middlemen rather than the ones actually driving spending.

Australia recently moved to force Facebook and Google to pay publishers for news content available on their platforms.

Local news focus — Facebook says the vast majority of publishers in the News tab are local outlets numbering in the thousands, whereas only 200 are large national publishers like CNN. Local journalism is even more important as it brings important accountability to small elections and government, but local news outlets have been hurt even more than the big guys. Why would a big company advertise in a small town newspaper when they can go onto Facebook and precisely target their message to millions across the country?

Articles found in News open in web views and display all the normal advertising, so the hope is that users will use the News tab and draw in more traffic to small publishers who get top placement. If News takes off that means they'll still be at the mercy of Facebook and its whims, though.

Facebook News is live on mobile and should be available on desktop sometime soon.