Facebook delivers a stern warning to clickbait scammers

It’s becoming an increasingly common complaint these days. People posting “clickbait” on social media, headlines that either intentionally mislead or leave out pertinent information. This becomes a problem when people just read and share headlines without actually clicking, propagating the false information and the practice.

In announcing the change, Facebook used the following example of a “clickbait” headline: “When She Looked Under Her Couch Cushions And Saw THIS… I Was SHOCKED!”

That may or may not be an actual headline (how can you tell these days), but everyone who uses social media has seen countless links just like that one.

Facebook’s system isn’t perfect, but it is quick to penalize. If the system identifies clickbait, it catalogs sites generating these links and pushes those lower in news feeds, essentially rendering them invisible. The more it happens, the worse the penalty, but if a site behaves, it can work its way back into Facebook’s good graces.

But how do the programmers of the filter define clickbait? Here goes: “If the headline withholds information required to understand what the content of the article is … if the headline exaggerates the article to create misleading expectations for the reader.”
So, it boils down to expectation. What does the reader think they are about to read, and what do they actually read? How will the program parse these expectations? That’s the secret sauce of the program.

Facebook has been working on this problem for years, and they freely admit this isn’t a perfect fix, but they know they need to do something. It boils down to public relations and user appreciation. When a user is disappointed, they are less likely to click next time. Eventually, they will be less likely to come back to Facebook at all.

Conversely, if they are happy with what they find on the social media news feed, they are far more likely to click and to return to the site. It’s a win-win when Facebook can get to a place where users are happy with the content and are encouraged to interact more frequently because they are happier with the content.

That’s why Facebook is working so hard to fix this, because, when the rubber meets the road, they’re the ones who get the credit or the blame.

David Milberg is an entrepreneur and an investment banker from NYC.