You've seen those headlines. They're written to grab your attention.
“He Put Garlic In His Shoes Before Going To Bed And What Happens Next Is Hard To Believe”; or “The Dog Barked At The Deliveryman And His Reaction Was Priceless.”
Often they start with “You won't believe,” or “You'll be amazed,” and are likely to have the word “jawdropping” in them somewhere. The publishers wrote them that way because they are trying to get you to click on them. If you do, they build traffic and make a little more money.
There's no real harm, except that the story is never anywhere as interesting as the headline, which is usually misleading.
Facebook cracks down
A lot of these “clickbait” headlines have been showing up in Facebook news feeds, but the social media site has told users it is cracking down on them. They're just too phony, the company says.
“One of our News Feed values is to have authentic communication on our platform,” Facebook said in a release. “People have told us they like seeing authentic stories the most. That’s why we work hard to understand what type of stories and posts people consider genuine, so we can show more of them in News Feed.”
At the same time, Facebook said it is trying to understand what kinds of stories people find misleading and spammy and weed those out, developing an algorithm that looks for certain words.
Mislead the reader
The complaint with “clickbait” headlines is they intentionally leave out crucial information, or worse, mislead the reader. They often appeal to people's baser instincts, promising to reveal embarrassing photos of a celebrity or reveal damaging information about them.
A team at Facebook came up with this criteria to determine whether a headline is “clickbait:”
- A headline that withholds information needed to understand what the article is about
- A headline that exaggerates to mislead the reader
The move is being applauded in many corners of the internet. According to TheNextWeb, “it's a potentially huge move, and one that makes journalism better for almost everyone involved.”