Facebook is changing its News Feed to try to stomp out 'clickbait'

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Photo: Getty Images

Facebook is making a significant change to its News Feed ranking algorithm to try to stomp out “clickbait” headlines.

The company says it’s only targeting the most egregious examples, which intentionally leave out crucial information or mislead people, like “You’ll never believe who tripped and fell on the Red Carpet…” or “Apples are actually bad for you!?” or “When Facebook made THIS huge change… Publishers were SHOCKED!”

The company has made smaller tweaks over the last year to combat clickbait, but Facebook’s VP of product management Adam Mosseri tells Business Insider that this change is the most dramatic launched since its initial efforts in 2014.

“It’s really aimed at the worst offenders,” he says. “We’re really going after ‘spammers.'”

To figure out what was clickbait and what wasn’t, a Facebook team categorized tens of thousands of real headlines by looking at whether they purposely withheld information or distorted or exaggerated the truth. The resulting dataset was then used to train a classifier algorithm that gives any headline posted on Facebook a “clickbait” score based on patterns.

If that algorithm identifies that a high percentage of links that a Page posts or shares rank high on the “clickbait” scale, all links from that Page will appear lower in News Feed. In short, Facebook will decimate that Page’s reach and referral traffic.

“We’re trying to change the incentives, to give publishers a reason to create headlines that are more straightforward,” he says. “We think that’s going to be a better experience for people, because that’s what we hear from people.”

The algorithm only looks at headlines, not share descriptions. It also adapts, so if a publisher sees its traffic plummet, it can recover its ranking by changing its headline style. Mosseri says that the change is really meant to target “content farms,” but says that Facebook plans to watch the effects of its tweak and update accordingly.

While most of the examples he gave are very obviously clickbait (“He Put Garlic In His Shoes Before Going To Bed And What Happens Next Is Hard To Believe”), Mosseri admits that many headlines are less clear cut, which is why it’s important that Facebook will only punish sites that post a lot of bad headlines.

Upworthy, the site that grew massively popular thanks mainly to Facebook traffic after originally popularising this headline style, has some more subtle recent examples.

“13 usually unspoken tips if your loved one struggles with depression”: fine.

“A man left $125 million to a nonprofit he never publicly supported. Now, we understand why”: debatable Mosseri says.

Ultimately, Facebook says that this change aligns with its recently published News Feed Values, which state that people want to see “authentic” content on their feeds.

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