Facebook’s new content rules will undermine like-bait publishers

26 Aug 2014

Facebook has announced it is cracking down on ‘click’ or ‘like’ bait articles people share that are designed to attract clicks but provide little other information beforehand.

In a move that won’t be pleasant reading for sites such as Upworthy or Buzzfeed, Facebook said it was responding to feedback from users.

The social network, which has more than 1.1bn users worldwide and 80pc or more who access the network via mobile devices, said it is going to help people find the posts that are most interesting and relevant.

It said it plans to weed out stories that people say are spammy.

It defines ‘click baiting’ as a scenario in which 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.

“Posts like these tend to get a lot of clicks, which means that these posts get shown to more people, and get shown higher up in news feeds,” explained Khailid Elk-Arini, research scientist at Facebook.

In an initial survey, Facebook asked people what type of content they preferred to see in their news feeds – 80pc of the time people preferred headlines that helped them decide if they wanted to read the full article before they had to click through.

“Over time, stories with ‘click-bait’ headlines can drown out content from friends and Pages that people really care about,” El-Arini said.

Facebook is able to see how long people spend reading an article, suggesting whether they clicked on something valuable or not.

“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,” El-Arini said.

“With this update we will start taking into account whether people tend to spend time away from Facebook after clicking a link, or whether they tend to come straight back to news feed when we rank stories with links in them.

“Another factor we will use to try and show fewer of these types of stories is to look at the ratio of people clicking on the content compared to people discussing and sharing it with their friends. If a lot of people click on the link, but relatively few people click Like, or comment on the story when they return to Facebook, this also suggests that people didn’t click through to something that was valuable to them.”

The new rules of link sharing on Facebook

In a second update Facebook said users prefer to click on links that are displayed in the link format above photos, which then shows additional information such as the beginning of the article.

Facebook believes this makes it easier for someone to decide if they want to click through.

“This format also makes it easier for someone to click through on mobile devices, which have a smaller screen,” said Joyce Tang, product specialist with Facebook.

“With this update, we will prioritise showing links in the link format, and show fewer links shared in captions or status updates.

“The best way to share a link after these updates will be to use the link format. In our studies, these posts have received twice as many clicks compared to links embedded in photo captions. In general, we recommend that you use the story type that best fits the message that you want to tell – whether that’s a status, photo, link or video,” Tang said.

Facebook warned that a small set of publishers who are frequently posting links with click bait headlines that users don’t spend time reading after they click through will no doubt see their distribution decrease in the next few months.



Facebook logo image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years