Facebook to Promote Local News

John Lister's picture

Facebook is to give more priority to local news stories when deciding which links to feature prominently. But Mark Zuckerberg's argument that this will reduce divisions and argument has been rejected by some critics.

It's the latest in a series of changes to the algorithm Facebook uses to decide the order in which a specific user sees content. Originally all content such as posts from friends and shared links was shown in chronological order.

Facebook later decided that the average user would not be able to see all of the content in chronological order (due to the volume of posts being made) and therefore decided to tweak its algorithm to show newsworthy items in "estimated order of importance." Of course, it also wanted people to spend more time on the site and thus see more advertising.

Geography Now More Important

The company chief Mark Zuckerberg recently said the company would rethink the formula it uses to decide which piece of content are most important. This was designed not just to be more accurate, but to discourage rewarding content and activity that gave people a negative experience on the site.

The latest of the changes to the formula is to rank a link to a news story as more important, providing that it originates from a publisher who is in the same geographic area as the user. The change may also help stories that are from a national publisher, but specifically address a topic relating to the local area.

One possible area of confusion is that Facebook won't necessarily rely on the title or website of the news organization to determine its "localness" and instead will look at the location of other Facebook users who read the story. This could have some unusual results; for example, residents of an American city's 'Chinatown' area might read a story about election results from a Beijing newspaper, but Facebook might classify this as a "local" story.

Local Stories 'Less Divisive'

Zuckerberg says the local emphasis is because of "how much we all have in common if we can get past some of the most divisive national issues." He went on to say: "Many people told me they thought that if we could turn down the temperature on the more divisive issues and instead focus on concrete local issues, then we'd all make more progress together." (Source: fb.com)

That's earned scorn from Fortune's Adam Lashinsky, who draws on his experience as a newspaper reporter where he found local issues were often extremely divisive. (Source: fortune.com)

What's Your Opinion?

Would you want to see links to local stories prioritized in your news feed? Does this help users or is it more for Facebook's benefit? Can an emphasis on local stories cut down on political and cultural divisions?

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russoule's picture

so if the "local" happens to be Port Stanislaw New Mexico with its 5 residents, what news story is important enough to be the top story?

if FB really wanted to make a substantial change, it would allow choosing to view a specific poster in chronological order with simple choice by name of poster. I want to see all Joe's posts since the last time I looked. I don't want to see Sally's posts on top because she had sixteen other women say her recipe looked fun.

petershaw's picture

As an English ex-pat living in Cyprus I await with interest to see what Facebook deems local. True local items will be in Greek which is not my language. More likely the usual failure of Americans to understand that Cyprus is part of the EU and is not best friends with the nearest country, Turkey, could lead to truly irrelevant and unrelated posts being selected.

Fortunately FB Purity is a marvellous add-on which should correct any daftness that occurs.

e6be1b_5412's picture

Zuckerberg is one of the dangerous idiots who rule the world.