The big problem with Clickbait

This summer Facebook announced some new changes to the way its News Feed works to discourage the so called clickbait. The goal is to show less deceptive posts or posts which have titles that specifically omit crucial information for enticing users to click the link. “People tell us they want to see authentic stories. That’s why we work hard to figure out what types of stories and posts are considered genuine, so to show them more in the News Feed“, said Mark Zuckerberg.

The problem of clickbait has become particularly widespread with the advent of social media (Facebook in particular) and, in a sense, it can be considered in effect a marketing strategy in a world where countless websites, online newspapers and blogs have to compete to win the attention of the reader and receive the greatest possible number of clicks. Certainly it is bad marketing, but still marketing – since it is always aimed at generating online advertising revenue: the clickbait does in fact rely on emotions, such as sadness and anger in particular, to whet the reader’s curiosity and make him click on the news.

The clickbait techniques are mainly two:

  1. Use of misleading images: an example is the articles that, speaking of the death of a character not too famous, publish the photo of the latter in the company of a very famous person, omitting in the title the name of the deceased person, thus suggesting that the famous person is dead.
  2. Use of sensationalist headlines, (“You’ll never believe it“, “The reason why will shock you“, “Gotta see this“) which are often used to propagate patently false and often racist articles.

The result is often a post shared by thousands of people in a few hours, with a turnover – thanks to banner advertising – truly remarkable.

clickbait cartoon

Cartoon by Cartoons by jim
The change to the Facebook algorithm aims to identify the posts on which a lot of people click, only to come back to Facebook shortly after, a sign of the fact that the news is of little relevance and that its title is too attractive. The latest updates also have categorized tens of thousands of clickbait headlines, based on some sensible assessments: does the title retain information needed to understand the content of the article? Does the title exaggerate the content of the article, creating misleading expectations for the reader? The system works as a mailbox spam filter and identifies, in addition to clickbait titles, also the domains from which they come, penalizing them heavily. The domains that publish many clickbait titles begin to appear less and less in the News Feed.

The fact that Facebook is taking very seriously the clickbait phenomenon is not unusual: many people every day use the internet to gather news and find medical information. Stopping the spread of this type of articles is therefore not only an ethical issue but also a way to protect the most vulnerable and less informed by the risk of receiving false information and practicing them.