August 4, 2016

Facebook wants to save you — and your readers — a click.

Today, the social network announced it’s switching up the rules governing its ever-changing News Feed, which wields enormous influence over news consumption.

The target this time? Clickbait-y headlines, the kind designed to inspire curiosity rather than convey information.

Facebook says readers have expressed frustration with headlines “that intentionally leave out crucial information” in the name of getting clicks, so it’s cutting down on them. Here’s an excerpt from an announcement published today:

We’ve heard from people that they specifically want to see fewer stories with clickbait headlines or link titles. These are headlines that intentionally leave out crucial information, forcing people to click to find out the answer. For example: “When She Looked Under Her Couch Cushions And Saw THIS… I Was SHOCKED!”; “He Put Garlic In His Shoes Before Going To Bed And What Happens Next Is Hard To Believe”; or “The Dog Barked At The Deliveryman And His Reaction Was Priceless.”

To address this feedback from our community, we’re making an update to News Feed ranking to further reduce clickbait headlines in the coming weeks. With this update, people will see fewer clickbait stories and more of the stories they want to see higher up in their feeds.

In its announcement, Facebook lays out two main criteria defining clickbait: headlines that withhold information or those that exaggerate to create misleading expectations. The social network has already categorized tens of thousands of headlines as clickbait and built a system that will stamp them out in the future.

Publishers that rely on clickbait, beware: The system also identifies repeat offenders and de-emphasizes their content in the News Feed. But it’s not a life sentence:

News Feed will continue to learn over time — If a Page stops posting clickbait headlines, their posts will stop being impacted by this change. We’ll continue to update how we identify clickbait as we improve our systems and hear more from people using News Feed.

This isn’t the first time Facebook has clamped down on clickbait. In 2013, an algorithm tweak aimed at weeding out irrelevant posts put a priority on higher-quality content. The change was bad news for publishers that peddled “you won’t believe what happens next”-style headlines and encouraged social promotion strategies that put a premium on sharing over clicking.

Today’s announcement is also a reminder to news organizations that build their audience strategy around any one social network that they are subject to the whims of that particular platform. Facebook’s most recent News Feed tweak, which emphasized posts from friends and family members, was generally received badly among publishers, many of whom rely on the social network to drive a large proportion of their traffic.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
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