Facebook News, the social network's dedicated section devoted to journalism, is today launching for all users in the U.S. The feature was first introduced in October 2019 as a limited test in the U.S. The product represents Facebook's much-debated new effort in wooing publishers to its platform with the promise of increased distribution.
In addition to the nationwide launch, Facebook has also added local news to its News section.
It's impossible to properly cover Facebook News without noting how the company has had a long and troubled history with regard to how it handles news. Years ago, Facebook offered a short list of trending stories across its network. But it later fired the human editors who curated that news, and its algorithms immediately posted fake news to the untended list. That feature was removed in June 2018.
Facebook has also over the years attempted to serve publishers with poor results.
It hosted "Instant Articles" that restricted advertising, subscriptions and the recirculation modules publishers relied on, leading many to abandon the feature. It touted the "shift to video," but inflated its video metrics, and then pulled back on paying publishers, wiping out some businesses. In 2018, it decided to prioritize friends and family posts in its News Feed, shrinking referrals to news outlets.
Then there's the not insignificant matter of Facebook's role in spreading fake news -- including for years the distribution of un-fact-checked links published by biased organizations. Its platform has also been used for the spread of propaganda and disinformation. It has been called out as being too favorable to one side or the other. (But all that's a whole other kettle of fish.)
This time around, Facebook is trying a different tack with regard to News.
The new product uses journalists to program Facebook News in addition to algorithms to better personalize story selection. Users can react and share articles, but not comment. Users are also able to hide articles, topics and publishers they don't want to see, which can become problematic in terms of broadening someone's exposure to the "other side."
To qualify for inclusion in Facebook News, publishers will have to serve a sufficiently large audience and abide by integrity standards. Facebook doesn't detail exactly how it makes determinations around integrity but says it looks at signals such as misinformation as identified by third-party fact-checkers, clickbait, engagement bait or use of scraped content, for example.
The News tab will appear to all U.S. users as a bookmark (under the three-lined "more" menu) on mobile, Facebook says. Those who frequently visit the bookmark will see News available as a tab (a button in the Facebook app) sooner.
Since the announcement last fall, Facebook has added new features in Facebook News, including breaking news alerts, timely news digests (e.g. "COVID-19 News" or "Unrest in America"), targeted notifications and more.
The notifications will appear at the top and may include alerts of a live video or breaking news -- for example, you may currently see live coverage of George Floyd's funeral or perhaps a breaking news alert about coronavirus.
Facebook is also now testing news video, which it didn't have last fall, and it has introduced a local news section to Facebook News. The latter brings thousands more local and regional publications into the news experience across more than 6,000 towns and cities.
The company tells TechCrunch the majority of its publishers are now local outlets, as a result. In addition, it has over 200 general news publishers.
Facebook already had a way for users to keep up with local stories by way of its "Today In" news discovery experience, which had been a separate tab. In the next several weeks, the company says it will combine that tab's content with Facebook News to make its News section a single place for users to keep up with local news.
The News feature is live now on mobile, but the desktop tab has yet to launch.