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What is ‘click bait’ and why Facebook wants to display less of it

(Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)
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Ever seen those headlines that start with “You will NEVER believe…” that are shared by your friends or promoted by advertisers on your Facebook news feed?

Now the social network says it’s trying to crack down on exactly those kinds of headlines, which it describe as “click-bait” because the teasers are aimed at encouraging people to click on them without giving much information about what readers will see next. Such posts often get a lot of clicks, and the more clicks they get, the higher up they will be shown in your Facebook news feed. Over time, these stories can drown out content from your friends and Facebook pages that you might really care about.

According to a survey by Facebook that asked users what type of content they preferred to see in their news feeds, 80 percent of the time people preferred headlines that helped them decide if they wanted to read the full article before they had to click through. In response, Facebook announced in a press release on Monday that it had made some improvements to its news feed  to “help people find the posts and links from publishers that are most interesting and relevant, and to continue to weed out stories that people frequently tell us are spammy and that they don’t want to see.”

The company said it will recognize click bait articles by measuring the amount of time users spend on their site visits after clicking on the article link. If people spend time reading the piece, Facebook will take that to mean the link took them to something valuable; if they just clicked on it and came straight back to Facebook, it will suggest that the link didn’t lead to any “quality” content. Facebook said it will also take into account the ratio of people clicking on the stories compared to people discussing and sharing it.

“A small set of publishers who are frequently posting links with click-bait headlines that many people don’t spend time reading after they click through may see their distribution decrease in the next few months,” Facebook said in the press release.

The closely held algorithm that determines what users see in the feed is crucial to businesses and also to news sites.