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Facebook is expanding the Today In feature for local news and information to more markets, and the social network also began testing local alerts from government and first-responder pages.
Today In lives in a separate section on Facebook’s flagship mobile applications for iOS and Android, which can be found under the More menu. Users can also change the city for which they will receive Today In information, as well as opt in to receive regular updates.
Testing of Today In began in six cities in January, and 25 more locations were added in March, with most of them being smaller cities.
Product manager for local news and community information Anthea Watson Strong revealed in a Newsroom post that Today In is now available in more than 400 cities in the U.S., and the feature is being tested in Australia, marking its first foray outside of the U.S.
Strong added that locations with a “low supply of local news and community information”—which she referred to as “news deserts”—will receive relevant content from surrounding areas.
She also cited research that found that 50 percent of people wanted to see more local news and community information on Facebook—breaking news, city council meetings, crime reports, weather updates, as well as information to help them plan, such as bus schedules, road closures and restaurant openings.
Facebook is also running a test with over 100 pages of local government bodies and first responders, enabling them to share time-sensitive updates on events such as major road closures, blackouts or natural disasters.
Posts in the Today In section and in News Feed will include a local alert label.
Participating pages can post up to 35 local alerts over a rolling 30-day period, and posts can be marked as local alerts for up to six hours. Strong said the News Feed ranking of posts will not be affected, adding that local alerts on the social network are not meant as a replacement for emergency alert systems.
A total of 17 first-responder pages posted 73 local alerts during Hurricane Florence in September.
Strong said Facebook is also testing notifications that pages in the test group can target to people in affected areas.