Facebook is escalating its war on “spammy” and misleading clickbait, a fight that began two years ago, in the fall of 2014.
For those unacquainted with the term clickbait, it refers to URL links shared via social media that contain provocative descriptions designed simply to attract visitors to a web page.
Facebook clearly despises clickbait because it directs people away from its platform to external websites. If unsatisfied, they quickly return to continue perusing their friends’ posts. This type of user behavior helped Facebook identify clickbait in the past.
Now, the social network is updating its algorithm once more to ascertain phrases commonly used in clickbait headlines, and the web domains and pages they originate from. Facebook describes the system as similar to an email spam filter. Consequently, if a publication or website is identified as a repeat clickbait offender, then its links will appear lower on the News Feed. If the same culprit puts a halt to their clickbait content, their posts will stop being affected by the change.
In order to build its new system, Facebook tapped a team of reviewers that trawled through and categorized tens of thousands of headlines. By Facebook’s definition this is what constitutes clickbait: “If the headline withholds information required to understand what the content of the article is; and … if the headline exaggerates the article to create misleading expectations for the reader.”
Here’s an example provided by Facebook of a typical clickbait headline: “You’ll Never Believe Who Tripped and Fell on the Red Carpet.” You could argue that simply withholding information, as in the case of this fictional article, does not merit the damning clickbait label. Which leads to the real problem at the heart of Facebook’s strategy; the platform is judging a book by its cover. After all, the content of the article itself may not be misleading or flat-out deceptive. This particular headline merely piques a prospective reader’s curiosity, if that is deemed to be negative, then Facebook may end up relegating a disproportionately large amount of links.
The second categorical rule used by Facebook is harder to argue with. A headline such as “Apples Are Actually Bad For You?!” (again courtesy of Facebook) could well be categorized as misleading, especially if the brain-numbingly simplistic answer is: “if you eat too many every day.”
We’ve all fallen prey to misleading content on the internet, and regretted wasting our precious time reading something that was wholly unsatisfying. However, those adjudicating a powerful communicative tool such as Facebook should keep in mind that a person’s judgement (which is subjective) is generally based on the content of an article, not the heading. Facebook has evidently made up its mind about what constitutes clickbait, but perhaps it should have dug a little deeper.