How Facebook is stepping up its whack-a-mole war against clickbait now


There’s a reason this article isn’t titled, “You’ll never guess how Facebook is fighting clickbait now.” Actually, two: 1) You probably could guess; and 2) the phrase beginning that headline is exactly how Facebook is now fighting clickbait.

On Thursday, Facebook announced the latest salvo in its roughly two-year-old war against clickbait posts. Quick thing before we get into the details though: It’s worth pointing out that Facebook kinda instigated the clickbait craze in December 2013,when it decided to reward article links that got a lot of clicks. So let’s not forget the Clickbait-Contra prelude to this war. Okay, onward.

To reduce the number of Facebook posts linking to articles whose headlines promise information that goes undelivered, sometime “in the coming weeks” the social network’s news feed algorithm will scan those posts’ headlines for phrases that often appear in clickbait headlines. Facebook announced this move in a blog post soberly titled, “News Feed FYI: Further Reducing Clickbait in Feed.”

To accomplish this clickbait profiling, Facebook had a team run through thousands of article headlines to identify the ones with headlines that withheld important article content and that inflated readers’ expectations (“You won’t believe which social network just dropped an atom bomb on the media industry!!!”). They flagged “tens of thousands” of these headlines as clickbait and fed them into a system that parsed them for phrases that were common among the clickbait cohort but not among the non-clickbait group.

“This is similar to how many email spam filters work,” Facebook data scientist Alex Peysakhovich and user experience researcher Kristin Hendrix wrote in the company blog post announcing the latest attempt to eradicate clickbait.

*Latest* attempt. Facebook has been attempting to eradicate clickbait for at least two years. Facebook’s first direct strike in August 2014 sicced its news feed algorithm on article links that people click on and then almost immediately bounce back from, as well as ones with a big gap between number of clicks and number of likes, shares and comments. That may have worked, but not enough. This year alone, Facebook made user surveys and time spent even more important signals so that its news feed algorithm could do a better job sweeping for clickbait.

Whether the latest effort will lead to a “Mission Accomplished” banner flying in Menlo Park is anyone’s guess. As it has before, Facebook isn’t only targeting individual posts with the latest change but also the Pages that publish them. “Links from or shared from Pages that consistently post clickbait headlines will appear lower in News Feed,” according to Facebook’s blog post. If those publishers surrender and stop posting clickbait headlines, then Facebook will grant them amnesty by no longer penalizing their news feed ranking.

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