Facebook has announced a new algorithm to eradicate clickbait articles, judging and burying headlines that tantalize readers without revealing enough content.
By pronouncing judgment on clickbait headlines, the social network company is headlining the discussion on what constitutes good journalism – for the second time in three months.
"One of our News Feed values is to have authentic communication on our platform," Facebook researchers wrote. "We've heard from people that they specifically want to see fewer stories with clickbait headlines or link titles."
Researchers described how they trained the new algorithm:
First, we categorized tens of thousands of headlines as clickbait by considering two key points: (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.
The new algorithm comes just three months after Gizmodo alleged that Facebook, rather than serving as a neutral platform for the world's photos, news, and discussions, is skewing its Trending Topics section with a liberal bias:
Facebook’s news section operates like a traditional newsroom, reflecting the biases of its workers and the institutional imperatives of the corporation. Imposing human editorial values onto the lists of topics an algorithm spits out is by no means a bad thing – but it is in stark contrast to the company’s claims that the trending module simply lists “topics that have recently become popular on Facebook.”
The company conducted an investigation that found "no evidence" of bias, and Facebook's founder Mark Zuckerberg met with critical conservative leaders to reassure them of Facebook's commitment to journalistic neutrality, The Los Angeles Times reported. For many, however, the story had already confirmed what they long suspected.
"The more we think about Facebook as a business run by people with their own biases and motivations and not simply a neutral conduit for information, the better," Mark Bartholomew told the LA Times. The law professor at the University at Buffalo in New York argued that Facebook should be held to the same standard as any other news organization.
Although the new, clickbait-proof algorithm has no apparent political bias, it does not back Facebook's claim of providing neutral links either. The policy goes a step further into editorializing than Facebook's previous anti-clickbait initiatives, which simply noted if a user liked, clicked, and quickly closed out of a link, wrote TechCrunch. The algorithm buries the material, allowing Facebook to slam it as shoddy journalism before users see it.
They have offered to share the method with other interested sites.
In one sense, Facebook may be no different from users who once rewarded clickbait but have now tired of it. The social media platform may simply reflect the highly selective, increasingly polarized American news audience.
"They've built a site that is profitable because it caters to people's need to self-express and curate and refine their images and individual brands, and they do that within groups where they feel comfortable because everyone is like them," Bill Bishop, a journalist and author of “The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart," told The Christian Science Monitor in May. "It's the site for our time."