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Facebook Tweaks News Feed to Crack Down on ‘Low Quality’ Sites

May 10, 2017

Facebook said on Wednesday that it is rolling out an update to its news feed algorithm that is designed to reduce the visibility of sites offering what it calls a "low quality" experience.

The social network said the tweaks to the algorithm are part of its ongoing efforts to fight misinformation and misleading advertising. It has made a number of changes to the news-feed over the past year aimed at both news publishers and advertisers who don't meet its standards.

In a recent essay, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg talked about how he wants the social network to help in the creation of what he called "informed communities."

Part of what's required to do that, Zuckerberg said, is ensuring that the information users get on the social network is accurate. The essay was seen by many observers as a sign that Facebook was taking seriously some of the criticism of its role in distributing "fake news."

In a blog post, the company said it has heard from users that "they are disappointed when they click on a link that leads to a web page containing little substantive content, and that is covered in disruptive, shocking, or malicious ads."

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The algorithm update means the news feed will contain fewer of these kinds of posts, Facebook said. However, the company didn't give a lot of detail on what it considers to be "substantive content," or how that term will be defined by the algorithm.

Earlier this year, Facebook made tweaks to the algorithm that it said were designed to promote "authentic" content. But it didn't give many details about what that consisted of either, except to say that the algorithm had been trained to recognize it.

Based on the description of what it is targeting, it looks like the network is aiming at sites that consist primarily of clickbait articles and ads like "Six Tips to be Amazing in Bed." Reducing their visibility will make it harder for them to monetize their traffic, the company said.

As with many algorithm updates, it's not clear how many of these kinds of ads a page has to use or display before it is defined as offering a low-quality experience.

In a blog post aimed at publishers, the social network warned that they should be careful not to have a "disproportionate volume of ads related to content" on their pages. It also warned that those who use sexually suggestive ads could be impacted, and those who use pop-up ads and interstitials, which take over a user's screen while a page is loading.

Some publishers have complained that they are reduced to using such ads because Google and Facebook have taken over most of the digital advertising market, and made it difficult for publishers to make money from their content without resorting to such methods.

Last year, Facebook announced that it was going after advertisers who relied on spammy or misleading ads in an attempt to reduce the economic incentives of those publishers, and it said the latest news feed update is a follow-up to those efforts.

The social network said it looked at hundreds of thousands of web pages to determine what kinds of characteristics these low-quality pages share, and then trained its artificial intelligence software to find new pages with similar characteristics.

Website publishers and news sites should "continue posting stories their audiences will like," Facebook advised, but those who have the kind of low-quality experience it is targeting should expect to see a decline in traffic. Those who have a higher quality offering "may see a small increase in traffic" as a result of the changes, it said.

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