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How Facebook is fighting fake news with local news

A prime reason fake news stories gain wide traction these days is that there are fewer gatekeepers to
January 10 · Issue #60 · View online
The Interface
A prime reason fake news stories gain wide traction these days is that there are fewer gatekeepers to keep them away from us. They show up in our News Feeds, tell us what we want to hear, and we happily share them with friends and family, often without ever having clicked the link. Facebook was built to let anyone share almost anything, and we do. Unlike the newspapers of the past, Facebook insists it does not want to be “an arbiter of truth.” As a result, it can be harder than ever to separate fact from fiction. 
Of course, newspapers and plenty of other big publishers are still happy to count fact-finding as part of their mission. The trouble is that in a world of infinite content supply, newspapers have had a difficult time reaching their audiences on Facebook. 
And so news today that Facebook is testing a separate section for local news and events caught my eye. Here’s my colleague from Recode, Kurt Wagner, with the details:
The social network is testing a new section inside its app called “Today In,” a feed made up entirely of local news, events and announcements.
The test is running in just six cities for now: New Orleans, La.; Little Rock, Ark.; Billings, Mont.; Peoria, Ill.; Olympia, Wash.; and Binghamton, N.Y. Facebook users who self-identify as living in those areas will be able to visit the new section to see local information, like stories from local publishers or emergency updates from local authorities.
Facebook is using a mix of humans and machine learning software to surface content in this new section. Local news publishers who appear there will all be approved and vetted by the company’s News Partnerships team, which is overseen by former NBC news anchor Campbell Brown, according to a company spokesperson.
Up until now, Facebook’s efforts to rein in bad actors on the platform have largely involved placing them on a blacklist. With “Today In,” Facebook is effectively testing a whitelist: using humans to select high-quality local journalism outlets, and allowing them — and only them — to share news within the section. 
The quality of local journalism varies widely from town to town. But by limiting publishers to vetted outlets, Facebook can both promote the local journalists whose businesses have been crushed by the rise of platforms and improve the quality of the journalism shared with its own users. The move likely won’t drive enormous traffic to publishers, especially while it’s in a test phase and limited to the purgatory of the hamburger button. But over time, it could drive both interest in, and subscriptions to, local publications.
I don’t mean to get too excited over a test. Even if Today In succeeds beyond Facebook’s wildest expectations, I don’t imagine that Facebook will bring this approach to the core News Feed. If anything, it’s another experiment that separates news from the News Feed — a test we talked about in October, and one that seems to have had negative consequences for the publishers affected.
Still, at this earliest of stages, Today In feels like a win-win. Sometimes a little gatekeeping can go a long way.

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