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Facebook Local Alerts. Photo: Courtesy Facebook

Facebook today announced it will make its local alerts tool available to first responders, such as police and fire departments, to update followers about emergencies.

Why it matters: As local media outlets decline as a primary source of community news, local officials are tapping social media to communicate with residents in real time. Many cities already use social media channels like Facebook and Twitter to track resident sentiment, and they also want to push messages to residents.

How it works: Facebook tested the tool with 350 first responder agencies over the past year.

  • A police officer, for example, could use the police department's Facebook page to send an alert to its followers about everyday disruptions like fog, water-main breaks or traffic closures — or about more threatening emergencies like a hurricane, fire or active shooter.
  • Starting Tuesday, Facebook will open up local alert access for first responders through an application process and will roll out the alerts to all local government and first responder pages nationally through the end of the year.
  • Facebook says that by marking posts as local alerts, authorities will "amplify their reach so that people living in an affected community are much more likely to see them."

Yes, but: This system is not meant to replace other emergency alert system, as not all residents are on Facebook and even those who are may not be following first responders' Facebook pages.

  • Jimmy O'Keefe, Facebook product marketing manager, said the company would vet public safety agencies to ensure that only legitimate pages were able to send alerts.

Go deeper

Updated 43 mins ago - World

Pentagon: 8,500 troops on high alert for possible deployment to eastern Europe

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has placed 8,500 U.S. troops on "heightened preparedness to deploy" to eastern Europe in case NATO activates its rapid-response force over tensions with Russia, the Pentagon announced Monday.

Why it matters: No decisions have been made to deploy U.S. forces, but the heightened alert level will allow the military to rapidly shore up NATO's eastern flank in the event that Russia invades Ukraine. The Pentagon warned that Russia has shown "no signs of de-escalating," and continues to amass troops on Ukraine's borders.

Alabama's new congressional map rejected by federal judges

The Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery. Photo: Taylor Hill/Getty Images

Federal judges on Monday night blocked Alabama's newly drawn congressional map and ordered the Republican-led State Legislature to create a new one that includes two districts, rather than the planned one.

Why it matters: "Black voters have less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect candidates of their choice to Congress," the panel of three judges wrote in their ruling.

Australian Open organizers reverse "Where is Peng Shuai?" t-shirt ban

Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai during the 2020 Australian Open in Melbourne. Photo: Bai Xue/Xinhua via Getty Images

Australian Open organizers on Tuesday reversed a ban on t-shirts supporting Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai following widespread criticism.

Why it matters: Tennis Australia's announcement came less than 24 hours after the governing body defended the decision to ask fans last Friday to remove "Where is Peng Shuai?" t-shirts, citing ticket policy prohibiting political clothing, per the BBC.