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How Facebook is clearing clickbait from your news feed

So many notifications. So many of them not worth reading.
So many notifications. So many of them not worth reading.

Your Facebook feed is about to get a little cleaner. On Monday, Facebook laid out a new system to keep clickbait out of your newsfeed. In a blog post, Facebook Research Scientist Khalid El-Arini and Product Specialist Joyce Tang write that the company will take a two-pronged approach.

Posts that don't deliver on their headlines

One issue is clickbaity posts that promise a story but don't quite say what it will be. This is the sort of "You'll never guess what happened next!" thing you see on a lot of publishers' posts.

Here's how Facebook defines clickbaiting: "'Click-baiting' is when a publisher posts a link with a headline that encourages people to click to see more, without telling them much information about what they will see," write Tang and El-Arini.

People click on the posts but then don't really like the content they end up reading. And when Facebook asked users what sort of headlines they prefer, 80 percent said they wanted more descriptive headlines that help users decide whether or not they really want to click through.

An example, based on Facebook's blog post, using a recent Vox Facebook post:

Facebook click bait

That's what one of our Vox posts looks like right now. Judging from how Facebook explains its new guidelines, I created an amended version that looks more like a typical clickbait post that draws in clicks but might not deliver.

Click bait correct version

We've all seen posts like this all over our Facebook feeds. The post and its headline don't really say what it will be about. Were this not my boss's article I'm talking about here, I'd say you'd have no idea whether you were heading to something worth reading if you clicked on this.

But I'd like to keep working it's a great article (seriously). And this brings us to how Facebook will know whether a post is clickbaity: not so much the headline, but rather whether people stay on that page once they click, for one, and whether they start discussing it and sharing it with their friends. In other words, clickbaity posts might currently be getting lots of traffic they don't really deserve.

So will this take all of those John Oliver videos out of your feed Monday morning? No; not if people comment about them and keep sharing them (which they do). And likewise, if people clicked on my amended post above and continued reading and sharing the article, presumably it would remain on people's feeds, despite my atrocious headlining job.

Links that don't inform readers

The second prong of Facebook's approach involves taking note of how a link is shared. If a publisher shares it within a post, it will show up with a photo, a headline, and a bit of text that explains the article.

But some publishers used a different method: including links inside of longer status messages. These links don't include context that lets the reader judge whether the story is interesting. Those sorts of stories will get a lower prioritization.

Here is the example provided by Facebook:

Facebook clickbait 3

Compare that to the first Vox example above, which doesn't include that "http://" link business, but does include text in the post, a headline, and some context below it all. Facebook says its users prefer that sort of format, so Facebook will give those posts priority.

This could hurt some Facebook publishers soon, write Tang and El-Arini.

"A small set of publishers who are frequently posting links with click-bait headlines that many people don't spend time reading after they click through may see their distribution decrease in the next few months," they write.

Maybe. Or maybe you'll just see Facebook posting conventions change. You'll never guess what will happen next.

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