Facebook will bury links to low-quality websites and refuse to carry ads pointing to them in a News Feed algorithm change announced today. Facebook defines a ‘low-quality site’ as one “containing little substantive content, and that is covered in disruptive, shocking or malicious ads.” This includes hosting pop-up and interstitial ads, adult ads, or eye-catching but disgusting ads for products that fight fat or foot fungus.
High-quality sites may see a slight boost in referral traffic while crummy sites will see a decline as the update rolls out gradually over the coming months. Facebook tells me that the change will see it refuse an immaterial number of ad impressions that earned it negligible amounts of money, so it shouldn’t have a significant impact on Facebook’s revenue.
Facebook product manager for News Feed Greg Marra tells me Facebook made the decision based on surveys of users about what disturbed their News Feed experience. One pain point they commonly cited was links that push them to “misleading, sensational, spammy, or otherwise low-quality experiences . . .[including] sexual content, shocking content, and other things that are going to be really disruptive.”
The change is important because if users don’t trust the content on the other side of the links and ads they see in News Feed, they’ll click them less. That could reduce Facebook’s advertising revenue and the power it derives from controlling referral traffic. Getting sent to a low-quality, shocking site from News Feed could also frustrate users and cause them to end their Facebook browsing session, depriving the social network of further ad views, engagement, and content sharing.
To implement the change, Marra tells me Facebook “reviewed hundreds of thousands of webpages, identifying which ones have low-quality content.” It used this data to train an AI system to constantly scan new links shared in News Feed looking for ones that match the low-quality site training data set. It then demotes these sites and blocks them from buying Facebook ads.
The parameters Facebook used to classify sites as low-quality include
A disproportionate volume of ads relative to content.This includes advertisements, and not legal obligations such as cookie policies or logins to private content, such as paywalls.
Featuring sexually suggestive or shocking content. See relevant policies for Sensational Contentand Adult Content.
Pages that contain malicious or deceptive adswhich include Prohibited Content as defined in our policies.
Use of pop-up ads or interstitial ads, which disrupt the user experience.
If Facebook can keep people confident that the links they click lead to quality content, it could continue to be the homepage of the Internet.