More than a third of Facebook users get their news from the site, but lately the stories being shared are light on information and heavy on crap--commonly referred to as click-bait. So Facebook is cracking down on headlines designed to rake in page views without offering substance.
The network will use two pieces of information to tell which stories are click-bait, according to a Facebook blog post. The first is time spent away from Facebook after clicking on an article. If it takes you a few minutes to read the story, that tells Facebook you found something worth reading. If you immediately close the page, the network will surmise that you didn't like what you clicked on. Facebook will also look at how often you share or like the stories you click on. If you didn't like what you read enough to like it or pass it to your friends, it's probably not worth floating to the top of your News Feed.
The company said Monday that click-bait stories tend to rise to the top of your News Feed because they're incredibly successful at getting people to click on them. Obviously. But people don't actually like seeing those types of stories in their feed and told Facebook that 80 percent of the time they'd prefer a headline that actually offered useful information.
The backlash against click-bait has surged in recent months in response to over-the-top headlines from viral news sites like Upworthy and Elite Daily. The Saved You A Click Twitter account makes quick work of cryptic headlines, answering questions or spoiling the story so you don't have to click through. The account typically focuses on silly articles, but has been criticized for ruining long-form pieces, too.
So will Upworthy, Buzzfeed, and other sites see traffic dwindle after Facebook changes its News Feed algorithm? I'm betting yes.
"A small set of publishers who are frequently posting links with click-bait headlines that many people don't spend time reading after they click through may see their distribution decrease in the next few months," Facebook research scientist Khalid El-Arini and product specialist Joyce Tang wrote in Monday's blog post. "We're making these changes to ensure that click-bait content does not drown out the things that people really want to see on Facebook."
Facebook is often slammed for its News Feed manipulations, but not all of its tweaks are emotional experiments. In recent months, the network has focused on eliminating spammy links and like-baiting to punish pages "that deliberately try to get more distribution than they normally would."
While this is good news for Facebook users, the changes will hurt pages that count on the network for click-throughs. But if your business plan is based on the whims of Facebook's algorithms, you should probably come up with a Plan B anyhow.