Facebook recently announced that it is hoping to soon reduce what it perceives “clickbait” stories on its newsfeed. By “clickbait” stories, the social media giant refers to stories than contain misleading captions or titles that provoke users to click on the stories only to find them disappointing. Headlines that withhold or distort information will soon appear less frequently on users’ news feeds. The efforts to reduce such stories that mislead users to click/open them started in 2014, although the algorithmic change this year is going to be the most dramatic one so far. The last one took into consideration factors such as whether users liked and immediately unlike a particular story, and whether users spent little time reading a story after opening it, and so on…in order to evaluate and differentiate less prominent stories from prominent ones. This time the algorithm followed is different.
Thousands of headlines were studied in order to understand whether information was purposefully withheld/distorted/exaggerated, and the resulting dataset was fed to train an algorithm that would give any headline a score based on its relevance and patterns observed in the data set. Commonly used phrases in clickbait headlines (which are not used in other headlines) are also identified and fed into the system; this works very similar to email spam identification system. If a website had similar patterns for all its articles, the algorithm would identify the source as “clickbait” and push its ranking down. The algorithm is also adaptive – for instance, publishers could try to bring their articles back on top by changing the headline style of articles and consciously publishing relevant headlines. It is useful to note that this algorithm does not take into consideration the “share description” or captions. It only accounts for headlines in stories.
Through these efforts, Facebook is hoping for more “authentic” content to be delivered to its users, and to provide them with stories that annoy them less. Users will not see any major change in the newsfeed stories’ distribution, but brands that rely on clickbait-style headlines will be penalized on the newsfeed.
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