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Facebook Is Changing News Feed to Discourage Clickbait

The website is trying to keep the kitten memes and hoaxes from flooding your feed.
Facebook's News Feed scoring system. (Image: Katy Finneran/Twitter)

There's bad news brewing on the content farm.

At Facebook's annual F8 developer conference in San Francisco on Wednesday, the company announced changes to the News Feed system meant to discourage clickbait articles and further explained an old initiative to prevent hoax stories.

"Our mission is to show you the content that matters, everything we do is in the name of this goal," Adam Mosseri, director of product at Facebook, said at the conference.

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"Content that matters" apparently no longer includes clickbait, content that uses sensationalized and often misleading headlines to get viewers to click on links. Lars Backstrom, who manages the News Feed ranking team, explained tweaks to the system that will change what users see.

In the past, he said, the relevance of content in your feed was evaluated by likes and shares

In the past, he said, the relevance of content in your feed was evaluated by likes and shares, leading to the proliferation of click-worthy but otherwise fluff content. Now, feeds are becoming more and more personalized. Even if two people have the same friends and pages liked, their feeds would act much differently from one another based on online activity.

Posts in your feed are now evaluated on three key factors: your relationship with the author, the type of content in the post, and overall interaction with the post. These factors are measured and combined to make a score, which determines where in your feed the post belongs.

"With those kinds of judgements, we are trying to align better with those signals rather than those things that were historically easy to measure," he said.

Lars Backstrom explains the News Feed ranking team at Facebook (Image: F8 Conference Live Stream)

Part of this method involves hiring contractors to tell Facebook how the algorithm is working, rating posts that appear in their feed on a scale of one to five stars.

"If you think back to the way we used to evaluate News Feed, based only on likes, comments and shares, this kind of story used to do really well," he said, referring to what looked like a cute animal photo. "Everyone likes cute bunnies, or kittens or dolphins. From the point of view of our previous system when we evaluated based on number of likes and shares, this story would do really well and get a ton of distribution. But when you ask people if they want this kind of story in their newsfeed, they'll tell you it is a one or two star story."

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Similarly, hoaxes are being targeted by new News Feed policies

Similarly, hoaxes are being targeted by new News Feed policies, as users now have the ability to flag and remove false posts from their feed (Backstrom used the example of an article about Martians landing in New Jersey). The feature wa​s announced in January.

"This is generally a change people have been happy with, and they're no longer tricked, which is always good" Backstrom said.

In a way, Backstrom said Facebook is reinforcing long-term trends. He said while many of these misleading posts reach a wide audience, in the long-run the audience for that page becomes disappointed and stop clicking on the sites.

"People want to know what they are getting into," Backstrom said. "In the long run that's what is going to work for you, is connecting with your audience giving them what they want to see, and what's interesting and relevant to them."