August 27, 2014

Facebook and Click-baiting

It was announced by Facebook last August 25 that they are taking steps to improve the News Feed of its users by reducing the number of headlines that trick users into clicking on them by having incomplete information or cliff-hanger type of headlines (also called click-baiting).

First off, why do websites do click-baiting? For one, some websites use this as a strategy to increase traffic count to their websites. The cliff-hanging and incomplete headlines normally encourage a user to want to read more. Increased traffic to the said website can translate to more advertising revenue if the user also ends up clicking on an ad unit while on the said website. Also, more clicks on Facebook meant the content is kept on the News Feed for a longer period of time, thus encouraging even more people to click on it. In a way, this type of click-baiting post exploited the existing Facebook algorithm by keeping a piece of news/content artificially relevant and in the News Feed without spending for advertising. 

Facebook is using a two pronged strategy to put an end to this practice.

First, is that it will reduce the amount of click-baiting headlines shown on News Feeds. Facebook will use an algorithm using a mix of a) time spent away from Facebook after clicking on a link and b) ratio of clicks to people actually sharing and discussing the content.

Second, Facebook will prioritize showing links that are shared using the link format instead of links embedded in picture captions. 

As a user, I am quite happy with this development. I would love to reduce the clutter in my News Feed and Facebook automatically reducing the amount of click-baiting headlines is welcome news. For the second development, I've experienced sharing links this way (pasting the link directly on the status box) and Facebook automatically creates a thumbnail of the link being shared. This somewhat limits the amount of changes a user sharing a link can make compared with embedding a link on a picture caption that one can edit and revise accordingly. Facebook normally grabs a thumbnail, the headline and the first few lines from the site/link being shared.

Sample of sharing a link via "link format" on Facebook

For advertisers, a less cluttered News Feed is good because promoted posts will likely receive greater visibility. Click-baiting posts were a "loophole" of sorts that Facebook has now clamped down on. Facebook in turn cleans up the News Feed to maximize advertising while users theoretically get a better Facebook experience. On paper, all sides win...everyone except the click-baiters of course. 

You can read the entire press release from Facebook on their blog which is linked here.