PhotoYou'll never guess what Facebook is doing to make its user experience less obnoxious!

Luckily you don't have to guess, because we'll come right out and tell you: Facebook's cracking down on obnoxious “click-bait” headlines of the “You'll never guess what so-and-so is doing!” or “You'll be amazed to hear what happened!” variety.

Facebook defines “click-baiting” as being when “a publisher posts a link with a headline that encourages people to click to see more, without telling them much information about what they will see.”

The lack of information is what makes it clickbait. After all: anyone who posts a link hopes people will click on it (otherwise, what's the point?), but legitimate headlines are supposed to give at least some indication of what the story's actually about — hence, the difference between posting a link titled “Facebook finally cracks down on clickbait” versus “You'll never guess what Facebook is doing to make its user experience less obnoxious!” The former is a legitimate headline; the latter is clickbait.

Bottom feeders

CNN Money referred to “a whole ecosystem of bottom-feeder Web sites that specialize in these kinds of stories.” Facebook's main motivation for the crackdown against that ecosystem is that clickbait can lead to a vicious cycle for the typical Facebook user: the more you're tricked into clicking on links which (it turns out) you don't actually care about, the more likely it is that your Facebook “feed” will include lots more links you don't care about, crowding out the ones you do and increasing the likelihood you'll spend less time on Facebook.

But a clickbait crackdown might have other advantages as well. Some clickbait is relatively innocuous, in that whoever put it up is only trying to get more clicks. But clickbait is also very popular with hackers and scam artists, who will use it to trick people into downloading malware.

Do you remember last March, when a Malaysia Airlines flight mysteriously vanished? On April Fools' Day the Better Business Bureau had to put out a serious, no-joke scam warning to let Facebook users know that malware writers were using the missing airline as clickbait: Facebook posts promised (for example) exclusive, never-before-seen video of the missing flight, or even said that the flight had been found, but anyone who clicked the link soon found their computers infected with malware.

With luck, Facebook's crackdown on “legitimate” clickbait (legitimate in the sense that it's only trying to inflate its click-numbers, rather than try to install malware or worse) will make life more difficult for clickbait scammers too.


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