Facebook’s Click-bait Content Update: What you need to Know NOW…


“It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.”

George Orwell, 1984

Facebook’s latest update to its infamous algorithm has a lot of brands and content providers concerned – and with good reason. Here is what you need to know as a brand or content provider…

  1. What will the update effect?

Both link titles (aka your content or webpage titles) and social headlines (aka that thing known in a simpler time as ‘status updates’).

2) How does Facebook define ‘click-bait’?

We all have an idea of what click-bait is, however Facebook define it as specifically as something that intentionally leaves out crucial information or misleads people – forcing people to click to find the answer. e.g. THIS New Tool from McAfree’s DIY will Leave You Inspired to Garden… or She Drank Nothing but Tea for A Year! What happened next is shocking…’ or even ‘What Will Happen in Next Year’s Game of Thrones? We ask the Experts.‘ 

Personally, this is not for me a perfect definition of click-bait – far from it. But that’s irrelevant because it’s Facebook’s definition that matters unfortunately. 

Not yours, mine or any of the pages you’ve opted in to follow. 

3) How is it different from the update announced in April and kicked in in July?

Facebook say the previous anti-click-bait measures were based on bounce backs – i.e. if people clicked on your article/link/blog post but quickly came back to Facebook. They decided this meant your content was not ‘satisfying’ the end user. No, we don’t know how they define the limitations of this (e.g. dwell time).

This new update is based on terminology and possibly also verification through the link/article based on their examples. 

So it is now a twofold operation.

4) When is it coming into effect?

Unlike the last update – which had a long lead in – we will see the effect over the next few weeks, starting now.

5) What will happen to click-bait titled content and statuses?

They will have already experienced an exposure and click-through ‘downturn’ in the last month, due to being pushed down or completely out of peoples timelines. 

This will increase much further.

6) What if some of my stuff is click-bait… but not all? 

Unfortunately tough luck. 

The update hurts not just the individual posts styled this way but it also count as negative marking for your Facebook page itself – thus any other content whether it’s in that style or not.
7) Will Facebook be letting us know which phrases/methodology is behind all this?

No. Of course not. When have they ever?!

8) What don’t we know still?

a) If the phrasing rules and the bounce-back rules interact with each other intelligently. (e.g. My title here today is click-baity… but will the dwell time over-ride the click-bait red marking… or does my turn of phrasing mean this post is automatically penalised?!)

b) Which is more important – the article headline or the text in the post that goes with it.

9) Where can I find out more?

You can find out the full details and some illustrative examples direct from Facebook here.

Previous updates can be found here, here and here. (And yes, the last two contradict each other).

10. My Aunty Mary is constantly oversharing click-baity stuff, along with every thought and agenda she is currently ‘outraged’ at. Does this mean I will still see the stuff anyway?

No idea. If  Aunty Mary’s shares are your main source of the stuff (as opposed to pages you follow) I would hazzard a guess to say yes, you’ll still see it – as she is not a page, but a human (despite what Uncle Sean says). 

My best advice is to have a quiet word with her that everyone else has the internet too and it’s not her responsibility – kind as the intention is – to keep the public informed. 

Better yet, introduce her to Twitter – nobody is paying attention to anything anyone puts up there anymore anyway! 

The REALLY Ugly Picture…

For those of you that have the time to get down to the bottom of this article (Hey, thanks! 😊) what is the macro-level implications of all of this?
Well, once again Facebook is the one deciding what the grand masses (including me and you) are reading – and making bad decision about it. And unfortunately they are taking their directive from ‘asking users’ – something which, given the amount of pure behavior data they have on us all seems either extremely thick… or extremely suspicious. Given that they are not above secretly manipulating whether you feel depressed or not for the sake of science, I’m going to go ahead an side on ‘suspicious’ on this one. 

As I’ve said time and time again, despite my love of quant research, asking people what they like or how they behave will not always give you an accurate course of action to take. In short, most of the time none of us can semi-accurately what the F*&K we were doing yesterday, never mind what we will want tomorrow. It’s the classic Henry Ford ‘faster horses’ or Steve Jobs quote on focus groups scenario. But still years on, we are ignoring both.

“Sanity is not statistical.”
George Orwell, 1984

And once again, the platform is prioritizing mass ‘group think’ – what the herd says (specifically, YOUR herd) over your own personal choices past and present. So once again, the views, agreements and opinions of your peers, are the views you will be shown over and over. On Facebook, this is equally true for a middle-class Indian university professor, as it is for a young white member of the KKK. These private social ‘internet bubbles’ are precisely what cause the ‘normalisation’ of  extremist thinking and behaviour – from teenage anorexia groups to extremist acts of terrorism. So all things considered, kind of a big deal.

“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”
George Orwell, 1984

Also, if Facebook is the one controlling what news get seen and read, over time, journos, content writers, brands and bloggers alike may feel inclined to change the content and exaggerate truths in order to get clicks. To literally change the news, change the story to feed the social beast or simply ‘disappear’.

To this end, provided the social platform continues to be our primary source of news, opinion and content, it thus controls people’s perceived reality.

You believe that reality is something objective, external, existing in its own right. You also believe that the nature of reality is self-evident. When you delude yourself into thinking that you see something, you assume that everyone else sees the same thing as you. But I tell you, Winston, that reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes: only in the mind of [Facebook], which is collective and immortal. Whatever [Facebook] holds to be the truth, is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of [Facebook].

                              – from George Orwell, 1984 with ‘the party’ replaced with ‘Facebook’ … just for you know, the craic.

What can you do about it as a reader?

 Create healthier content habits. Facebook never forced you to use it as your news source – we have all blindly given them that power.

Using items such as Readability and Flipboard to curate your own sources may partially help – although it does nothing to widen the parameters of the opinions and views that you will get, just giving the control back of whom you choose to hear from.

So why not take on ‘trialing’ a new content provider/author/paper once a week for a month and going from there? From the perspective of a consumer, challenging ourselves to try things we presume we won’t like – from Sky Diving to chic lit can be super rewarding. Besides, seen as how nobody but marketers read this blog, from a marketing perspective, well IT’S YOUR DAMN JOB TO KNOW WHAT’S OUT THERE! And NOT just favour the thing every other hipster middle-class university educated white male 30-something likes by default – whether it’s the choice of an actor or ‘influencer’ in your campaign or the platform you choose to put that ad on. You are not always your brand’s audience.

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