Facebook today announced its latest move to rid the social network of sensationalist, misleading, and spammy junk. The company says it has tweaked its News Feed algorithms to downrank “low-quality webpage experiences,” as part of its heightened effort to cut down on fake news, viral clickbait, and other types of content pushed out on Facebook purely for the financial benefit of third-party website owners. The company says the changes are rolling out to users over the next few months.
This News Feed tweak extends to both ads users may see on the platform and posts and links dropped in manually from pages and users. “We have had a policy in place since last year to prevent advertisers with low-quality webpage experiences from advertising on our platform,” writes Facebook researchers Jiun-Ren Lin and Shengbo Guo. “Now, we are increasing enforcement on ads and also taking into account organic posts in News Feed.”
Facebook says it built up a database of hundreds of thousands of webpages linked on its site and mobile app that “contain little substantive content and have a large number of disruptive, shocking or malicious ads.” Researchers then employed artificial intelligence to scan new links shared on Facebook that match the earlier criteria it used, which included the ratio of content to ads and whether the website contained adult or shocking content as per Facebook’s guidelines and standards. “So if we determine a post might link to these types of low-quality webpages, it may show up lower in people’s feeds and may not be eligible to be an ad. This way people can see fewer misleading posts and more informative posts,” the researchers explain.
Since the beginning of the year, Facebook has been taking a more aggressive approach to moderating content on its platform and installing more oversight over how the social network is misused by spammers, online trolls, and even foreign governments. This has been due to mounting pushback from Facebook critics since the US election concluded last November and Zuckerberg downplayed his company’s role in the outcome.
Zuckerberg has been coming around to the idea that Facebook’s influence may be far greater than he anticipated, or at least liked to admit in public. This culminated in the chief exec’s new 5,800-word manifesto posted in February that outlined his aim to use Facebook a a way to build the “social infrastructure for community.” To do so, it appears Facebook is taking a more active role in the information disseminated on its platform.
The company has since taken measures to try and improve the social network as a source of public good and positive change, and to minimize its widespread and harmful side effects. These include partnerships with fact-checking organizations, new features to better educate users on information that might be false or misleading, and mass bans of suspicious accounts to curtail government-led “information operations” designed to manipulate public opinion.