Friday, 5 August 2016

Facebook is cracking down on 'clickbait' again



SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook is cracking down again on "clickbait" content farms that spam users with sensational headlines that leave out crucial information or mislead people.
"We worked on clickbait in the past and we made improvements but clearly that was not good enough," says Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s vice president for product management. "We heard that loud and clear from the people who use the product every day."
Facebook constantly changes its computer algorithm that determines what people see in the news feed, making small tweaks on a nearly daily basis and bigger ones about once a month to weed out the junk and give priority to "authentic" content.
This tweak is the latest in a series to encourage Facebook's 1.7 billion users to spend more time on the service. News Feed is critical for Facebook: the more time spent scrolling through the feed, the more ads Facebook can show.
Merriam-Webster defines clickbait as "online material (such as headlines) designed to make readers want to click on hyperlinks especially when the links lead to content of dubious value or interest." Mosseri says clickbait is the bane of many users' Facebook experience. They frequently complain about clickbait headlines in focus groups and surveys. They even file "bug" reports. Facebook is aiming to deliver what users want which is content that is "real and genuine," he says.
Two years ago, Facebook reduced clickbait in the news feed by calculating the amount of time users spent away from Facebook after clicking on articles or if they "liked" and then quickly unliked an article that appeared in the news feed. They gave lower priority to articles that had quick 'unlikes' and low engagement.
This time, Facebook spent months reviewing tens of thousands of headlines to determine if the headline withheld key information or if it exaggerated the article. Facebook identified a large number of clickbait headlines, such as "The Dog Barked at the Deliveryman and His Reaction Was Priceless" or "When She Looked Under Her Couch Cushions and Saw THIS … I Was SHOCKED!" Then it picked out phrases commonly used in the headlines and built a system to automatically detect them. Links posted from or shared from pages or websites that produce clickbait headlines will now appear lower in the news feed.
News outlets such as USA TODAY will not be affected by the algorithm change, according to Mosseri. Facebook, he says, is targeting "spam-like content farms" that will see a significant reduction in "reach and referral traffic." He declined to say how many clickbait headlines land publishers in the Facebook penalty box so publishers will have a tougher time gaming the system.
In June, Facebook made major changes to how it ranks content from publishers, giving priority to posts from friends and family in an attempt to get users to spend more time on Facebook. Users had complained that other content was drowning out personal updates.
As a result some publishers have seen average readership declines of about 5%, Mosseri says. Facebook drives more than 40% of traffic to publishers, more than any other site, according to social media analytics company  Parse.ly.
Follow USA TODAY senior technology writer Jessica Guynn @jguynn

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