Posts and Pages that use spam tactics to boost their visibility in Facebook's News Feed will soon be demoted in favor of more "meaningful" content, the company said today.
"Engagement bait" content asks Facebook users to like, share, or comment on posts in an effort to earn higher visibility on the site. After studying hundreds of thousands of such posts, Facebook said it has developed a machine learning model that can identify such content and display it less frequently in users' News Feeds.
This latest change comes on the heels of another new feature, Snooze, announced last week that will let Facebook users temporarily unfollow people, Pages or groups without those others being notified. Both Snooze and the new engagement bait demotion model are set to begin rolling out this week, Facebook said.
The social media giant has been facing steady pressure to fine-tune the content that users see, especially in the wake of revelations about Russia-sponsored misinformation campaigns on the site ahead of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Expect 'Significant Drops in Reach'
In addition to demoting like- and share-hungry spam posts, Facebook over the next few weeks will also impose similar downgrades on Pages that "systematically and repeatedly use engagement bait to artificially gain reach in News Feed," operations integrity specialist Henry Silverman and engineer Lin Huang wrote in a blog post today.
Such demotions won't affect legitimate user posts that ask others for "help, advice, or recommendations, such as circulating a missing child report, raising money for a cause, or asking for travel tips," Silverman and Huang added.
Facebook regularly adjusts how its News Feed algorithm determines the information that users see, and has made other changes this year to put a lower priority on clickbait headlines and posts that link to Web sites with malicious ads or sensational content. These latest changes could affect publishers and businesses that have driven traffic with the help of engagement bait, and Facebook is putting them on notice to change tactics.
"We will roll out this Page-level demotion over the course of several weeks to give publishers time to adapt and avoid inadvertently using engagement bait in their posts," Silverman and Huang said. Pages and publishers that continue promoting such content can expect to see "significant drops in reach," they added.
Questions about Social Media's Role
Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other online information-sharing sites have come under scrutiny for the roles they played in enabling widespread misinformation and "fake news" to reach millions of Americans before the 2016 election. Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg initially dismissed criticism of his site's influence, but acknowledged last month that it's clear that social media tools have been used by some to "sow distrust."
In a lengthy newsroom post on Friday, Facebook director of research David Ginsberg and research scientist Moira Burke described recent studies that have found how social media and other technologies can have negative effects on users, even though they are ostensibly designed to help people better communicate and interact with one another.
"According to the research, it really comes down to how you use the technology," Ginsberg and Burke said. "For example, on social media, you can passively scroll through posts, much like watching TV, or actively interact with friends -- messaging and commenting on each other's posts. Just like in person, interacting with people you care about can be beneficial, while simply watching others from the sidelines may make you feel worse."
By fine-tuning its News Feed algorithm and adding new tools, such as Snooze, Facebook is trying to make its site a positive experience for users, they added.
"We don't have all the answers, but given the prominent role social media now plays in many people's lives, we want to help elevate the conversation," they said. "In the years ahead we'll be doing more to dig into these questions, share our findings and improve our products. At the end of the day, we're committed to bringing people together and supporting well-being through meaningful interactions on Facebook."
Image credit: Product shots by Facebook.