Facebook expands local news with government alerts test

Facebook plans to make it easier for its users to access local news from their communities and cities. This content will be presented under the new "Today In" section on Facebook, where users can find local news potentially supplemented by news from surrounding regions. As well, Facebook says it will be testing government alerts targeted at specific communities.

Facebook has already provided news content, but under Today In, users will find news from their own town or city. This can involve everything from local crime to new businesses that opened and other information that may otherwise never appear in the user's news feed. More than 400 cities in the United States are covered by "Today In."

Some areas are too small to have much news of their own — Facebook calls these news deserts, and they may include tiny towns, unincorporated areas, houses on random country roads, and similar. In this case, the company says it has been testing the inclusion of relevant news from surrounding areas.

The information is located in its own section in the Facebook app; users can access this section to see both local news and community information, which may include things like bus schedules and road closures. Users who enjoy this content have the option to turn on local updates so that local news makes a regular appearance in their ordinary News Feed.

As part of the Today In expansion, Facebook says it is testing local government and first responder alerts across 100 Pages related to them. These alerts will include things like closed roads in the city, natural disasters that are affecting the region, electricity blackouts, and similar.

Facebook is pulling the alerts from government and first responder Pages and presenting them in both Today In and the News Feed. The company is likewise testing notifications for these alerts that target people in the affected regions. Pages currently participating in the test have the ability to mark posts as local alerts, but they're limited to 35 alerts per 30 days. The alerts stay live for six hours.