By Brian Ward
Click bait seems to be everywhere:
- The 12 Types of Annoying People on Facebook.
- Top 10 Celebs People Would Cheat on Their Spouses With.
- Quiz: What Kind of Dragon Are You?
I came up with these headlines myself, but I have no doubt you could find articles on these subjects if you looked hard enough.
Clickbait is exactly what it sounds like, links that bait people into clicking on them. Within social media it lies somewhere between junk food and a sideshow that promises you a unicorn and gives you a goat. Typically, the posts they link to are empty of thought or meaning, with uninteresting or recycled content. Most clickbait exists to generate ad revenue; clicks equal money even if people only stay on the page for two seconds.
The 5 Types of Clickbait You Are Most Likely to Encounter!!!!!!!!! (Warning: Contains real clickbait links)
- A link to a hint-of-scandal news article with an eye-catching headline and very little detail about its content. For instance:
- A story that desperately appeals to your sense of, “Hey that relates to me!” or “Those things bother/anger/please me too!” to get you to click. For instance: Signs that you were born in the 80s
- Lists. Movies, fictional characters, celebs, childhood snacks, the years of your twenties sorted from best to worst, reasons you should do X instead of Y, top ten lists we like to make to draw your attention. For instance: 8 Signs He’s Cheating
- It could be a page that recycles legitimate content created by a third party. For instance: Watch John Oliver Call Out All Of Western Media For Ignoring The Largest Elections Ever
- It could be one of ten billion online quizzes. For instance: “What Color Are You Most Like?” , “How Good Are You In Bed?” or “Can You Identify the ‘00s Pop Star from Her Low-Rise Pants?”
Clickbait thrives in social media, either by people intentionally sharing it or by more nefarious means. Previously, people just had to live with it because there was no way of accurately filtering it from legitimate content. Take the list I made above. You could have a legitimate article that someone made a poor description for. Or is about an interesting or tantalizing topic. Or cites media from other sources. Or formats itself as a list (I’m a big fan of the list format).
And not all clickbait is generated by empty-content get-paid-by-the-click sites. Upworthy, for instance, uses clickbait headlines to troll for new members for its socially conscious community: “After Seeing This I’m Not Sure My Kids Are Ever Going To Play Football Again.” I leave to you to decide if the ends justify the means.
So how do you separate the steaks from the spam, save going through each article? Enter attention minutes.
Facebook Fights Clickbait With Attention Minutes Algorithm: You Won’t Believe What Happens Next!
Last August, Facebook added a new algorithm with the purpose of eliminating clickbait from its newsfeed. In a blog post explaining the change Facebook said, “When we asked people in an initial survey what type of content they preferred to see in their News Feeds, 80 percent of the time people preferred headlines that helped them decide if they wanted to read the full article before they had to click through.”
Instead of measuring clicks, the new Attention Minutes algorithm measures how much time is actively spent on a page. The “actively” part is important; even though a person leaves a link open doesn’t mean they are engaging with it. With attention minutes, things like mouse movement, if the page is pulled up or has been minimized, and how long a video has been playing are measured. Using this algorithm, Facebook is now able to downgrade links with poor engagement, even if it has high clicks.
In addition, how links are presented will now affect their priority. Facebook found that, “People often prefer to click on links that are displayed in the link format (which appears when you paste a link while drafting a post), rather than links that are buried in photo captions. The link format shows some additional information associated with the link, such as the beginning of the article, which makes it easier for someone to decide if they want to click through. This format also makes it easier for someone to click through on mobile devices, which have a smaller screen.”
Facebook clearly wants to reward engagement rather than clicks. With the Attention Minutes algorithm, content producers will have to start making engagement a priority. While this is only for Facebook, many will have to adapt or die if they want access to the 500 million FB users.
Has It Worked? Read On To Learn How!
One of the questions asked when the Attention Minutes algorithm was introduced was the fate of sites like BuzzFeed. For those of you who don’t know, BuzzFeed is a master of clickbait, generating hundreds of memes, puff pieces, and lists of things culturally relevant to the ≤30 crowd. It’s the potato chip of the media world; looking up stuff for this article I couldn’t help myself from reading through some of their posts.
It’s been a month since the new algorithm was introduced, and I can report that Buzzfeed still exists on Facebook. However, I am seeing less of BuzzFeed’s content and clickbait in general. And I find I’m more likely to read through the BuzzFeed content that does appear on my feed now. Which means the new system is working.
So does this mean the end of BuzzFeed and its kind? Probably not, there will always a demand online for silly puff pieces that play on humor, nostalgia, shock and novelty. And of course there are plenty of other forms of social media for clickbait to flourish in. Hopefully this change in metrics will herald the start of more content driven by engagement and will clear away the exploitive junk that uses readers as ad fodder.
One final note on the subject. When I went to the Upworthy website to research this article I found the following link at the end of the page, which factored heavily into my conclusion that clickbait will exist forever.
“A Gorgeous Woman Shakes Her Body On Stage… And The Crowd Goes Wild”
For obvious reasons, I’ve chosen not to hyperlink it.
Aw, what the hell, click if you dare.
Thanks to Ocean Drive Social for the image.