Facebook is cracking down on click-bait


 (Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)

Headlines that promise to “restore your faith in humanity” or insist that “you won’t believe what happens next” are about get weeded out of your Facebook news feed.

In a blog post on Monday the company said it was cracking down on click-bait. Why? Because Facebook users don’t like it.

“We’re making these changes to ensure that click-bait content does not drown out the things that people really want to see on Facebook,” wrote Khalid El-Arini a research scientist at Facebook, and Joyce Tang, a product specialist.

What is click-bait? It ranges from the intentionally misleading to alluringly vague. As the Facebook post said, “‘click-baiting’ is when a publisher posts a link with a headline that encourages people to click to see more, without telling them much information about what they will see.”

Or as Mediaite put it: “It’s a lure twinkling in the internet waters meant to resemble the informational nourishment we want. Once we’ve bitten down, it’s too late, the trap has been set. Then we’re tossed back into water, unfed, and disoriented.”

Facebook’s algorithm used to prioritize posts that got lots of clicks but 80 percent of users surveyed said they “preferred headlines that helped them decide if they wanted to read the full article before they had to click through.”

Facebook says its algorithm will now take into account how long users spend reading a story they click on. “If people click on an article and spend time reading it, it suggests they clicked through to something valuable. If they click through to a link and then come straight back to Facebook, it suggests that they didn’t find something that they wanted.”

The algorithm will also take note of whether people are commenting on or sharing the article, a sign that something isn’t clickbait because people think it’s worth discussing.

The emphasis on quality over quantity could impact websites that rely on the social network to drive traffic. According to a Shareaholic study of social media traffic referrals to more than 300,000 websites over the course of four months, Facebook is number one, topping Twitter and Reddit, when it comes to getting people to click on a link.

Earlier this year Facebook targeted “like-bait,” posts that explicitly ask users to like, share or comment in an effort to game Facebook’s algorithm which gives wider distribution to posts with heavy user interaction.

Gail Sullivan covers business for the Morning Mix blog.
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