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Facebook Moves to Block Clickbait Headlines

New Facebook rules for brand content headlines could cause further ripples if other publishers adopt them.

Facebook is now warning advertisers about the use of clickbait headlines, releasing specific examples of the types of headlines it will no longer tolerate. The text that led the early iterations of BuzzFeed, a thousand times copied by other enterprising “listicle” sites, may find that its time has come to an end.

Two Specific Criteria Provided

Facebook has provided guidance for publishers regarding how to clean up their headlines by providing two specific examples of unacceptable headlines:
1: If the headline withholds information required to understand what the content of the article is (e.g. “You’ll Never Believe Who Tripped and Fell on the Red Carpet…”).
2: If the headline exaggerates the article to create misleading expectations for the reader (e.g., “Apples Are Actually Bad For You?!”)

Big Brother Is Watching the Content

While you might think it takes a human to spot clickbait headlines, Facebook has actually computerized the process for locating this type of content. Facebook has created an algorithm that detects clickbait and identifies and remembers the domains that serve it. Sites that consistently serve clickbait will be punished by having their content placed lower in Facebook’s News Feed. When domains stop posting clickbait, their rankings will rise again.

Incomplete Headlines as Bad as Misleading Ones

You may have noticed more and more article links ending with ellipses, such as, “NBA Star Drives Car Near Cliff and …” Not only is Facebook punishing those who post misleading headlines that link to articles that don’t deliver the promise of the headline, the social media giant will also punish incomplete and “frustrating” headlines. Facebook provided three examples of headlines that didn’t mislead, but required readers to click on the article to find the answer:

  • “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”
  • “The Dog Barked At The Deliveryman And His Reaction Was Priceless.”

Trying to Fix the Incentive Loophole

One of the reasons clickbait worked so well for publishers seeking to make Facebook’s trending news is that Facebook considered the most-clicked articles as the best-trending ones. So, the more misleading the headline, the more people clicked to find out what was going on, and the more Facebook’s algorithm saw that as valuable content. However, Facebook was receiving thousands of complaints from its users each day about clickbait.
While the company has adjusted its algorithm to weed out high-click but low-quality articles, it hasn’t completely solved that problem yet, which is why Facebook is relying on human staffers to manually find, flag and punish clickbait.

What This Means for Brands

Advertisers who allow publishers to create some or all of their brand content, including headlines, will need to keep a closer eye on the work product they are getting. While individual advertisers won’t be punished for sponsoring content that uses clickbait, if they partner with sites that do, their bran content, even if it’s legitimate and doesn’t use misleading headlines, could be penalized in Facebook’s News Feed. This would occur because Facebook punishes entire domains, not just individual articles or advertisers.
Brands should also prioritize headline-writing skills when hiring copywriters, as competition for clicks will heat up as headline requirements become more stringent when other websites follow Facebook’s lead.

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