Cue the “what happens next will surprise you” jokes: Facebook announced changes to its news feed algorithm Thursday that are supposed to reduce the amount of clickbait headlines served to its users.
The company is specifically targeting headlines that withhold information or mislead users, explained user experience researcher Kristin Hendrix and research scientist Alex Peysakhovich in a blog post.
“We’ve heard from people that they specifically want to see fewer stories with clickbait headlines or link titles,” they wrote. “These are headlines that intentionally leave out crucial information, or mislead people, forcing people to click to find out the answer.”
Facebook’s new algorithm tweaks work a bit like an email spam filter, but for headlines: The company reviewed thousands of headlines to find common phrases used in clickbait and spammy posts. In the coming weeks, Facebook will start to filter stories using these kinds of phrases, and display them less often in its users’ news feeds.
However, Facebook doesn’t just filter out all of those “and his reaction was priceless” stories. The company also proactively identified a number of sites that often rely on these kinds of stories, and is now putting them in the penalty box: “Links posted from or shared from pages or domains that consistently post clickbait headlines will appear lower in News Feed,” the two researchers wrote. “News Feed will continue to learn over time — if a page stops posting clickbait headlines, their posts will stop being impacted by this change.”
This isn’t the first time Facebook has tried to cut down on clickbait. Two years ago, Facebook began to analyze how many click-throughs an article actually got, and how long people spent reading that article before returning to Facebook, to gauge its quality and impact its ranking in the news feed.
News feed rankings, and algorithm changes like this one, can significantly impact a publisher’s web traffic. The Pew Research Center estimated earlier this year that Facebook is now responsible for more than 80 percent of mobile social traffic for news publishers.