I’d like to apologize up front for that headline, but I freely admit to having the same sort of nuanced, refined sense of humor that you’ll find among most five year olds. Hopefully the subject matter of the story will earn me some forgiveness. The actual tale of the day deals with Facebook and a change in what sort of news may be showing up in your feed going forward. The social media giant has announced a new plan to cut down on the amount of clickbait you see when you check in. (Facebook Newsroom)
People tell us they don’t like stories that are misleading, sensational or spammy. That includes clickbait headlines that are designed to get attention and lure visitors into clicking on a link. In an effort to support an informed community, we’re always working to determine what stories might have clickbait headlines so we can show them less often.
Last year we made an update to News Feed to reduce stories from sources that consistently post clickbait headlines that withhold and exaggerate information. Today, we are making three updates that build on this work so that people will see even fewer clickbait stories in their feeds, and more of the stories they find authentic.
- First, we are now taking into account clickbait at the individual post level in addition to the domain and Page level, in order to more precisely reduce clickbait headlines.
- Second, in order to make this more effective, we are dividing our efforts into two separate signals — so we will now look at whether a headline withholds information or if it exaggerates information separately.
- Third, we are starting to test this work in additional languages.
Assuming you own a computer or a phone you’re already familiar with the general concept of clickbait, perhaps made most famous by outlets such as Buzzfeed. They always tend to be exciting without telling you precisely what you might find inside when you click on the article. These are things along the lines of, “Nancy Pelosi caught in shocking private video scandal,” or “You won’t believe the new policy Facebook just put in place!” And all too often, once you’ve clicked through to the article it turns out to be something far less interesting than what was implied.
I’m not sure how Facebook plans to fight this particular menace, however. Doing it in any sort of automated fashion would require a level of artificial intelligence which probably doesn’t exist yet outside of Russia’s gun-toting robots. Crafting headlines is something of an art and styles vary wildly. Some of them, like the aforementioned Buzzfeed routine, are clearly misleading. But others may provide hints as to what’s to be found inside without entirely letting the cat out of the bag and the actual content is worth the time to click. I’m not sure I’d even trust the actual humans working at Facebook to make that call consistently, particularly if they happen to harbor a particular political bias.
It’s an issue which all of us in the online publishing world struggle with and most teams have some sort of policy in place to cover it. Let’s say I come across a story about Al Franken saying he hopes Hillary Clinton doesn’t run for president again. If I’m going to take the time to write about it I’m obviously hoping that some of you will want to read it. If I choose a flat, “newsy” title along the lines of, “Franken would rather not see Hillary run again” there are a certain number of readers who are looking for a quick water cooler topic to discuss with their friends and will never bother clicking on the link. They already know the key subject matter. But if I choose a title of, “Al Franken knows one Democrat he hopes doesn’t run in 2020” they would need to click on the link to find out who it is and hopefully be interested enough to read the whole thing. So was I being deceptive? Was it clickbait if there really was an interesting story lurking under the headline? Or is that just a good news feed strategy? It’s not as clear cut as Facebook might think.
Perhaps the company should spend a bit less time trying to reverse engineer clickbait behavior and tackle some of the other big ticket items on their plate. They clearly have enough of them. Just for one example, a bunch of people are currently pretty angry to find out that Facebook seems to be defending a sex trafficking site. (Consumer Watchdog)
A coalition of anti-child sex trafficking and public interest groups, and the mother of a trafficking victim, today released a report detailing how a Google-funded campaign protects a law that shields a notorious hub of child sex-trafficking, Backpage.com, from any accountability for its activities. Google and the organizations it funds purport to be protecting free speech on the Internet.
The coalition challenged Google – and the organizations it funds – to acknowledge the damage Backpage has caused and to support changes in a key internet law – Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — that shields the child sex-trafficking hub from accountability for its ongoing abuses.
Given a choice between the two I’d probably rather find out that Facebook was helping to cut down on child sex trafficking than saving me from seeing another Buzzfeed headline. Your mileage may vary.