Facebook News Feed update targets clickbait headlines

Publishers and marketers will need to be extra careful about the titles they use for content they promote on Facebook as the world’s largest social network has unveiled a News Feed update that will penalize clickbait.

Facebook research scientist Alex Peysakhovich and user experience researcher Kristin Hendrix explained:

We’ve heard from people that they specifically want to see fewer stories with clickbait headlines or link titles. These are headlines that intentionally leave out crucial information, or mislead people, forcing people to click to find out the answer.

For example: “When She Looked Under Her Couch Cushions And Saw THIS… I Was SHOCKED!”; “He Put Garlic In His Shoes Before Going To Bed And What Happens Next Is Hard To Believe”; or “The Dog Barked At The Deliveryman And His Reaction Was Priceless.”

Initially, Facebook tried to address low-quality, clickbait content with a News Feed update that sought to decrease the distribution of posts that resulted in users returning to the News Feed shortly after they were clicked on.

But that update apparently didn’t go far enough and now Facebook is targeting specific phrases that it has determined commonly appear in clickbait headlines. Specifically, Facebook is targeting two kinds of clickbait titles: those that withhold information that would make the context of the content clear and those that exaggerate and mislead.

Facebook’s system, which functions much like email spam filters do, identifies websites that commonly host content with clickbait titles, as well as Facebook Pages that content with clickbait titles are frequently shared from. It then will penalize those websites and Pages in the News Feed.

The impact for publishers and marketers

Facebook says that “we anticipate that most Pages won’t see any significant changes to their distribution in News Feed as a result of this change,” but warns that “websites and Pages who rely on clickbait-style headlines should expect their distribution to decrease.”

As such, publishers and marketers will want to be extra careful about the titles they use, as a penalty for clickbait could result in all their posts appearing lower in the News Feed until Facebook’s system determines that the use of clickbait has stopped.

More broadly, Facebook’s latest News Feed update is a reminder to publishers and marketers that the social network is focused on stemming a decline in the sharing of original, personal content.

Long-term, that decline, if not abated, could pose an existential threat to the company, so this latest News Feed update, which follows previous updates designed to prioritize content posted by friends and family, probably won’t be the last that has the potential to affect publishers and marketers negatively.

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