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Facebook, Flexing Its Muscle, Announces Plans To Combat Clickbait

“These are headlines that intentionally leave out crucial information, or mislead people."

05/08/2016 2:45 AM IST | Updated 05/08/2016 9:49 PM IST
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Facebook, tired of headlines promising “shocking” things you “won’t believe,” is fed up with clickbait and will soon implement changes to its algorithm that’ll remove such stories from your newsfeed.

In a blog post Thursday the social media network with more than 1.7 billion monthly users said it would institute a new system to show people “the stories most relevant to them” in an effort to shift away from “misleading and spammy” headlines.

“We’ve heard from people that they specifically want to see fewer stories with clickbait headlines or link titles,” reads the post, written by Facebook’s Alex Peysakhovich and Kristin Henrix. “These are headlines that intentionally leave out crucial information, or mislead people, forcing people to click to find out the answer.”

The shift in Facebook’s News Feed will target two types of headline: those that withhold information that necessitates users clicking through to an external website and those that exaggerate and mislead to heighten expectations.

The company says it has built a system similar to an email filter that uses common phrases from clickbait headlines (You Won’t Believe” “They Said What!?” “His Reaction Was Priceless”). Websites that continue to rely on such headlines will be monitored by the new algorithm, which will “learn over time,” and have their stories appear less frequently if they continue, the company says.

“Links posted from or shared from Pages or domains that consistently post clickbait headlines will appear lower in News Feed ... If a Page stops posting clickbait headlines, their posts will stop being impacted by this change,” the post reads.

Facebook made a similar push against clickbait two years ago when it first began to crackdown on misleading headlines.

Media publishers have often worried over the social media company’s ability to decide what types of posts appear more frequently on a user’s page. Unpredictable changes to “the algorithm” ― a buzz phrase that can incite fear in any social media manager ― can massively impact ad revenue, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has been vocal about his desire to keep users on the platform rather than them following links to other sites.

In June, Facebook altered its algorithm to heavily favor posts from users’ friends and family over those from brands and publishers.

Peysakhovich and Hendrix say the latest change is aimed at showing users “what’s most important” while championing “authentic communication.” The post ends with a not-so-subtle warning to those that don’t fall in line:

“Websites and Pages who 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.”

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