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Facebook finetunes efforts to weed out clickbait from news feed

Cracking down on stories with misleading headlines, Facebook announced that it was fine-tuning its efforts to undermine clickbait on Facebook users’ News Feeds. In a blog post, Facebook said that it was doing this to improve the quality of stories that appear on Facebook users’ feeds. Facebook intensifying efforts to weed out unreliable content from its platform is a part of a larger effort that the social media giant decided to embark on following criticism that ‘fake news’ on Facebook contributed to Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg laid out the principles for this effort in a Facebook note titled “Building Global Community“.

How Facebook is reining clickbait in

In an August 2016 post, Facebook said that it categorizes clickbait on two criteria:

(1) if the headline withholds information required to understand what the content of the article is; and (2) if the headline exaggerates the article to create misleading expectations for the reader. For example, the headline “You’ll Never Believe Who Tripped and Fell on the Red Carpet…” withholds information required to understand the article (What happened? Who Tripped?) The headline “Apples Are Actually Bad For You?!” misleads the reader (apples are only bad for you if you eat too many every day).

The company identified commonly used phrases in such stories, and worked to reduce their ranking in the news feed, so they would appear well below other posts. This week, Facebook said that they would now be detecting such stories on an individual link basis, as opposed to just blacklisting entire websites or Facebook pages. They’re also classifying links into two categories: those that withhold information in the title, and those that exaggerate the actual content of the story. The company is now testing this in a few more languages, though they didn’t specify which ones.

“If a Page stops posting clickbait and sensational headlines, their posts will stop being impacted by this change,” Facebook said in the blog post.

Facebook’s fake news efforts

Though they initially claimed that fake news had little to no part to play in the US election, Facebook has significantly ramped up its efforts against fake news. They’ve started flagging links from unreliable websites and added labels marking stories disproved by websites like Snopes. Facebook defines organized efforts to spread misinformation and fake news aimed at influencing public opinion for a certain outcome as “Information Operations”. In a report on such Information Operations released last month, the company identified certain features of fake news that are common when used by organized actors.

In the report, Facebook said that it was using machine learning to identify instances of Info-ops and to remove illegitimate accounts. They also said that they were briefing political campaigns and parties on cybersecurity and how to keep their information from being stolen by politically motivated attackers. “Facebook will continue to contribute in this area by offering training materials, cooperating with government cybersecurity agencies looking to harden their officials’ and candidate’s social media activity against external attacks,” the company said in the report. The company is also looking for international partners outside the US to help it identify and flag fake news.

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