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Facebook's war on 'click-bait' may actually reduce click-bait

On Monday, Facebook declared that it is going to try and weed "click-bait" out of its 1.3 billion users' News Feeds. That sounds like a laudable goal — nobody likes the idea of being "baited" into clicking on a story, even though click-bait only works if people actually do click — but the problem is deciding what constitutes the offending spammy articles.

Facebook came up with a definition: "'Click-baiting' is 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." Normally, the more clicks an article gets, the more people the Facebook algorithm serves the article to. You won't believe what Facebook did to change that: Well, actually it's pretty boring — the algorithm will now take into consideration how long users spend on an article and how many people are "discussing and sharing it with their friends."

This could actually affect how people read the news. In May, Facebook product management executive Mike Hudack posted a "rant" about "the state of the media," calling most U.S. news outlets "ghosts in a shell" that "seem incapable of breaking real, meaningful news at internet speed." Speaking for much of the media, The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal shot back in the comments that "Facebook is the major factor in almost every trend" Hudack identified as dumbing-down the news. Madrigal said he's not a "hater," but "if you asked most people in media why we do these stories, they'd say, 'They work on Facebook.'"

Maybe they won't anymore. Or, click-baiters could just change how they write headlines. For what it's worth, Facebook says that "a small set of publishers who are frequently posting links with click-bait headlines that many people don't spend time reading after they click through may see their distribution decrease in the next few months." Here's hoping.