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August 27, 2014

Click Bait: What it is, and Why Facebook is Working Against it


It's hard to get noticed these days. It's not for a want of tools; there are more than enough platforms out there. It's certainly not for a want of a potential audience, as there are more people online or interacting with media than ever before. But there are a lot of people and things out there vying for that notice, and that's making it tough for each individual participant to be heard over the din. So that's got some turning to new tactics to get attention, and one such practice is known as “click bait,” a practice which Facebook is looking to shut down.

Basically, click bait is a fancy, attention-getting headline of the kind that might be seen on any given day. “The Secret Connection Between Bananas and Weight Loss” is a great one, particularly for anyone who both likes bananas and wants to drop a few pounds. Even those who don't fit into those categories might be interested by virtue of curiosity, and so, users click on the headline in the Facebook news feed. While the relevant content may not be all that relevant after all, there are still plenty of clicks, and that in turn drives the content higher up in the news feed.

Click bait can be a problem in that it doesn't necessarily end well, but it can still be quite useful to users as well. 80 percent of respondents in a Facebook survey noted that the best headlines allowed the users to make decisions about which articles to read before having to click through. So how can anyone tell the difference between a useful headline and a slice of click bait?

Part of the decision comes in terms of how long users spend away from Facebook. Clicking through to a full article that proved useful generally takes more time than coming back from a click bait article in disgust does, so the time spent away from Facebook will now be a factor in Facebook's decision whether, or not to bump an article up in the roster. Additionally, Facebook will also reportedly be looking at the ratio of clicks to a piece of content to the resulting interaction with it, whether it's being discussed or actively ‘Liked’.

Facebook's making another, smaller change to the news feed as well, putting links to articles directly in a link format as opposed to allowing such things to carry on in the captions of photos. The users, reportedly, preferred having the link present and easily viewable as it allowed for a more informed decision about whether or not to carry on to the rest of the article.

Facebook reportedly expects these new developments to only impact “a small set of publishers who are frequently posting links with click-bait headlines...”, though these measures seem to depend somewhat on subjective measures. It's possible, after all, to write articles that are high quality that no one cares much about, or for, and simply declare these to be click bait. While it's hard to fault Facebook's desire to get more relevant content into play, simply relying on unclear, unquantified metrics like “did enough users talk about the article” or “did enough users stay away from Facebook long enough” doesn't seem like the way to go about it.

Still, Facebook has its users' interests at heart, and it's hard not to approve of that. Hopefully this will work out well, ultimately, for all concerned...at least, for those it should work out well for.




Edited by Maurice Nagle

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