Facebook algorithm change will drown out clickbait stories

5 Aug 2016

Stories with misleading headlines or that don't provide complete information - aka clickbait - will be marginalised in the Facebook News Feed

Yep, we’ve all been there, the suggestive, alluring clickbait headline in News Feed that urges you to click to find out more or get an answer. Well, this stuff will be no more thanks to sweeping changes that Facebook is bringing to its News Feed algorithm.

In an update to its News Feed Values, Facebook intends to marginalise what it determines to be “clickbait” news stories from publishers.

Most of these headlines give less information on purpose with the aim of getting users to click to find out more and usually end with such shtick as “what happens next will shock you” or “her reaction was priceless”.

‘Websites and pages that rely on clickbait-style headlines should expect their distribution to decrease’

Future Human

In fact, most users’ News Feeds are polluted with this tripe, but now, thanks to an algorithm change by Facebook, they will appear less frequently, losing ground to publishers who choose more straightforward headlines.

“People have told us they like seeing authentic stories the most,” explained Alex Peysakhovich, research scientist at Facebook.

“We’ve heard from people that they specifically want to see fewer stories with clickbait headlines or link titles. These are headlines that intentionally leave out crucial information, or mislead people, forcing people to click to find out the answer.”

Facebook combats clickbait: what happens next will please you

With the new update, Peysakhovich said Facebook’s 1.7bn users will see fewer clickbait stories and more relevant stories higher up in feeds.

Kristin Hendrix, user experience researcher at Facebook, explained that Facebook categorises tens of thousands of headlines as clickbait by considering two key points: (1) if the headline withholds information required to understand what the content of the article is; and (2) if the headline exaggerates the article to create misleading expectations for the reader.

“For example, the headline ‘You’ll Never Believe Who Tripped and Fell on the Red Carpet’ withholds information required to understand the article (What happened? Who tripped?). The headline ‘Apples Are Actually Bad For You?!’ misleads the reader (apples are only bad for you if you eat too many every day). A team at Facebook reviewed thousands of headlines using these criteria, validating each other’s work to identify a large set of clickbait headlines.

“From there, we built a system that looks at the set of clickbait headlines to determine what phrases are commonly used in clickbait headlines that are not used in other headlines. This is similar to how many email spam filters work.”

Hendrix said that Facebook’s new system identifies posts that are clickbait and which web domains and pages those posts came from.

“Links posted from or shared from pages or domains that consistently post clickbait headlines will appear lower in News Feed. News Feed will continue to learn over time — if a page stops posting clickbait headlines, their posts will stop being impacted by this change. We’ll continue to update how we identify clickbait as we improve our systems and hear more from people using News Feed,” Hendrix said.

Hendrix said that most pages won’t seen any significant changes to their distribution in News Feed.

“However, websites and pages that rely on clickbait-style headlines should expect their distribution to decrease. Pages should avoid headlines that withhold information required to understand what the content of the article is and headlines that exaggerate the article to create misleading expectations.”

Fishing hook image via Shutterstock

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