In the latest of a series of changes to its News Feed algorithm, Facebook has declared war on clickbait.
The social media giant does its best to make sure that you see the posts that are of greater interest to you, and now it is looking to block some of the ones that aren’t.
Clickbait to be weeded out by new algorithm
The move means that Facebook will filter clickbait from your News Feed in the same way that Gmail hides spam from your inbox. The News Feed algorithm will now detect specific words, styles and structures that “intentionally leave out crucial information, forcing people to click to find the answer.”
One example of clickbait provided by Facebook is as follows: “You’ll Never Believe Who Tripped and Fell on the Red Carpet…” In other words they are the kind of headlines that we all pretend not to click on, but sometimes do when no one else is looking.
According to Facebook, human staff have reviewed “thousands” of headlines in order to come up with a definition of clickbait. They concluded that the term refers to headlines on social media that do not provide information necessary to understand the context of an article, and headlines that exaggerate the article.
Facebook to penalize clickbait
Previous attempts to crack down on clickbait included analysis of how long people took to return to their News Feed after clicking on a link. Facebook is still employing that method, but the latest update seems likely to be more effective.
With the new algorithm, informative headlines will be ranked higher than potential clickbait. This means that they will appear higher up your feed.
The filter will not apply to individual posts, but rather Pages and domains. Those with a higher tendency to post clickbait will be ranked lower under the new system. As a result people will be able to send a clickbait article every now and then without being penalized, but those that churn out a steady stream will be impacted severely.
How will new rules affect user engagement?
The company has not promised to completely remove clickbait, but rather move it down the News Feed ranking. If they are ranked low enough it could effectively be the same as removing them.
Clickbait is used to drive engagement with users by leaving key details out of the headline. While it’s not the most informative, it does make people at least click on the article.
Now Facebook has the power to seriously dent the power of clickbait and swing the balance of power back towards informative headlines. Data shows that 60% of U.S. adults use social media to get their news, and Facebook is the biggest social media platform. This puts the company in a strong position when it comes to controlling clickbait, as publishers cannot afford to perform badly on Facebook.
However one interesting point is that Facebook may not want to become too effective at killing clickbait. If informative headlines mean that engagement in Facebook declines, it is unlikely that the company will continue to penalize clickbait.
As an initiative it should be applauded, but the whole thing will inevitably run into teething problems and require some fine tuning. Hopefully it means more high-quality content on your News Feed, but it might be a while before we find out the true effects of the tweak.