The social network said in a blog post 80% of its users would prefer headlines that give them the information they need to determine whether a story is worth reading, rather than something designed to get a cheap click.
Facebook defines clickbait as "when a publisher posts a link with a headline that encourages people to click to see more without telling them much information about what they will see." It's a tactic originally popularized by viral media sites like Buzzfeed and Upworthy but is fast becoming standard practice for news publications who are struggling to drive traffic to bored consumers.
Facebook says it will calculate the amount of time users spend on a website, after they click away and before returning to their news feeds to determine which ones will be demoted. It also says that it will compare the number of comments, likes and shares, to how many users actually click the link. Basically, Facebook now values time spent engaged in a story over unique pageviews.
"One way is to look at how long people spend reading an article away from Facebook," Facebook explained in its blog post. "If people click on an article and spend time reading it, it suggests they clicked through to something valuable. If they click through to a link and then come straight back to Facebook, it suggests that they didn’t find something that they wanted. With this update we will start taking into account whether people tend to spend time away from Facebook after clicking a link, or whether they tend to come straight back to News Feed when we rank stories with links in them.
"Another factor we will use to try and show fewer of these types of stories is to look at the ratio of people clicking on the content compared to people discussing and sharing it with their friends. If a lot of people click on the link, but relatively few people click Like, or comment on the story when they return to Facebook, this also suggests that people didn’t click through to something that was valuable to them."
Writer Jake Beckman, who founded “Saved You A Click," an anti-clickbait services that helps "provide context” for stories and events, described the changes as positive but not a total solution to stop clickbait.
“It sounds like it's an interesting attempt to tackle the problem on a systemic level, and that will get them to a much better level than they’re at now,” Beckman said.
“But oftentimes, clickbait is not so easy to define. I feel like using data to address the problem is only half the issue.”
A writer for The Awl points out killing the pageview isn't the same thing as killing clickbait; Facebook's changes will just give marketers a new system to try and game.
"If you've ever seen a headline over a YouTube embed with an appeal to stick around until a certain point in a video, or a post that implores you to stick around for a particular list item ... then you've already seen some of these strategies in action. You know what else takes a long time? Quizzes. Games. The possibilities are terrifying and endless."
In the blog post Facebook also announced it would be prioritising posts that use Facebook's link sharing feature, over those which simply embed links in the body of their post.
Facebook is planning to gradually roll out both of those changes over the next few months.