By Seth Fiegerman
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The news you see on Facebook may soon hit closer to home.
Facebook announced Monday it is beginning to prioritize local news stories in News Feed. It’s part of an ongoing campaign to prove the social network can have a positive impact on users and society.
The change initially applies to U.S. users only, with plans for additional countries later in the year.
“Starting today, we’re going to show more stories from news sources in your local town or city,” Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO and cofounder, wrote in a post announcing the change. “If you follow a local publisher or if someone shares a local story, it may show up higher in News Feed.”
The announcement marks the third big change to News Feed this month emphasizing quality over quantity for news. Facebook previously said it would show more content from friends and less from publishers. It’s also looking to prioritize news from sources that users deem “trustworthy.”
Facebook is trying to recover from a bruising year of criticism about its platform enabling fake news, foreign election meddling and filter bubbles. Zuckerberg has said his personal goal for 2018 is “fixing” Facebook’s many problems.
The latest tweak is said to be inspired by Zuckerberg’s listening tour of the country last year in the wake of the 2016 election.
“Many people told me they thought that if we could turn down the temperature on the more divisive [national] issues and instead focus on concrete local issues, then we’d all make more progress together,” Zuckerberg said.
Facebook isn’t necessarily defining local news by the size of the publication, but rather by the concentration of readers of that publication in a certain area, according to a company blog post.
“Large local publishers will benefit, as well as publishers that focus on niche topics like local sports, arts and human-interest stories,” according to Facebook’s explanation. “That said, small news outlets may benefit from this change more than other outlets, because they tend to have a concentrated readership in one location.”
The social network has also been testing a new section dedicated to local news and events. The section, called Today In, is currently available in six U.S. cities.
Last week, Google began testing a platform for crowdsourced, hyperlocal news. In effect, two of the tech companies most often criticized for undermining the business model of news publishers are now looking to shore it up.
Facebook and Google gobbled up more than 60% of digital ad spending in 2017, according to research firm eMarketer, making it that much harder for big and small online publishers to compete.
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