That’s Not a Puppy Video – That’s Clickbait!

By Terrance G Kern on March 15, 2016

Admit it… at some point, you have taken the quiz that tells you which Disney character you are. You’ve shared a post of the 14 life hacks to keep your laundry clean. And you’ve liked a post on Facebook because you didn’t want people to think you hated Jesus, wanted a young girl to die from cancer, or were indifferent to the plight of any of a host of issues.

click bait link farms

Well, stop it.

While written about for the last several years, scams like Facebook like-farming only seem to be getting worse. In a completely non-scientific survey of 100 items in a typical newsfeed, taken a few times over the course of the day, such content took up 15 – 25 percent of the newsfeed. The marketing is brilliant, and the posts are from friends you know sharing it because, darn it, they’re kind of fun or compelling. Some have even used real children suffering from real diseases without the family’s knowledge. However distasteful that is, the pitfalls of liking, sharing or commenting on one of these posts can range from having your profile information used to inundate you with more ads, to comprising your computer with malware and exposing your identity to hackers.

How like-farming works is fairly simple. That puppy video is irresistible, so it goes viral. As the visibility of a post hinges on the response it gets, it soon appears in everyone’s newsfeeds beating the tough algorithms Facebook has presented. Once it gets a foothold in the newsfeeds, the authors of the post will remove the original content on the website and replace it with an ad to get around the stringent Facebook ad policy.

 

Clickbait works similarly, but uses an irresistible headline to tickle the curiosity of readers, who can’t scroll on without knowing what “and then THIS happened” means. The strategy has been put into use to the nth degree on Facebook as well as Twitter, and while you might get the rest of the story, you may also pick up malware while you’re reading.

An effective version of clickbait generally involves death hoaxes, and poor Betty White has been declared dead for the purpose of clickbait too many times to count. Once we’ve figured out we’ve been tricked – again – the damage might already be done.

At times the terms are used interchangeably, but the results are the same: you pick up a virus from the website, your profile is used unknowingly, or your financial account numbers are stolen.

Facebook takes action

The very food of like farms and click bait is response via likes and shares. So, in an effort to thwart those who would cheat it out of ad dollars, Facebook changed its algorithm in spring 2015. Posts in your feed are now evaluated on three key factors:

  • Your relationship with the author (not the person who shared it)
  • Type of content in the post
  • Overall interaction with the post

These factors are measured and combined to make a score, determining where the post belongs in your newsfeed.

It also added qualitative feedback to determine what people want to see on their newsfeeds. A white paper released last week indicated that Facebook will be polling 1,000 users every day to help shape the look of the newsfeed.

Social Media Tricks

Your turn: Don’t take the bait

You need to do your part, too. It’s so tempting, but steer clear of posts that you suspect are clickbait or like-farms. The Better Business Bureau offers such tips as:

  • Look for sensational terms: spectacular, shocking, ‘you won’t believe this,’ among others
  • Look for the website in the link. If you don’t see one, take your cursor and hover over the image or headline. Generally, the full link will appear in the lower left hand corner. If this is truly news, you should recognize the site to be legitimate
  • Check your apps in Facebook. Click on the down arrow at the top right side of the page, select Settings and view your apps under the menu on the left side of the Settings screen. Don’t recognize some? Remove them. Even if they are familiar click on them to see what information you have agreed to give them. The Doritos taste test app uses your email address, the names of your friends and the date of birth. Wow. Not anymore.

You may also want to consider anti-malware software, including:

  • Bitdefender
  • Kaspersky Anti-Virus
  • McAfee
  • Webroot
  • Avast Pro

Depending on your level of usage, or your fear of being hacked, prices range from free to generally around $40.

In addition, Facebook and Twitter have protocols you can use to report what you feel is spam, clickbait or other scams. In the newsfeed on Facebook as well, you can click on the down arrow of the post to “hide this post” or “report post.” Even if a friend was the one to share it, Facebook also gives the option to hide or not see posts from the author so you won’t be blocking your own friends.

The battle will be ongoing, as the need to get your information – or your money – is a strong motivation, and you don’t need to look far to find more examples. In a stunning stroke of irony, a read-through of the various articles we linked to for this blog also featured clickbait links on the bottom of the page.   We love our Texas Social Media team here and if you need a further analysis about your social media needs don’t hesitate to contact us.

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