Watch Out, Clickbait: Facebook Is Coming for You (Again)

No more, 'When She Looked Under Her Couch Cushions and Saw THIS … '

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Facebook is going after clickbait in its News Feed again, announcing three updates on that front.

Engineers Arun Babu, Annie Liu and Jordan Zhang announced in a Newsroom post that the social network will:

  • Take into account clickbait at the individual post level, as well as the domain and page levels.
  • Examine two separate signals—headlines that withhold information and headlines that exaggerate information.
  • Begin testing its anti-clickbait efforts in additional languages.

The three engineers provided more details in the Newsroom post:

We’ve learned from last year’s update that we can better detect different kinds of clickbait headlines by separately—rather than jointly—identifying signals that withhold or exaggerate information.

Headlines that withhold information intentionally leave out crucial details or mislead people, forcing them to click to find out the answer. For example, “When She Looked Under Her Couch Cushions and Saw THIS …” Headlines that exaggerate the details of a story with sensational language tend to make the story seem like a bigger deal than it really is. For example, “WOW! Ginger Tea Is the Secret to Everlasting Youth. You’ve GOT to See This!”

We addressed this similarly to how we previously worked to reduce clickbait: We categorized hundreds of thousands of headlines as clickbait or not clickbait by considering if the headline exaggerates the details of a story, and separately if the headline withholds information. A team at Facebook reviewed thousands of headlines using these criteria, validating each other’s work to identify large sets of clickbait headlines.

From there, we identify 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.

Posts with clickbait headlines will appear lower in News Feed. We will continue to learn over time, and we hope to continue expanding this work to reduce clickbait in even more languages.

Babu, Liu and Zhang added that they expected minimal impact on pages, but publishers that rely on clickbait headlines will see their News Feed distribution fall.

Image courtesy of nemoris/iStock. David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.