Facebook ‘Related Headlines’ no more than advertising revenue stream


WASHINGTON, September 22, 2014 – Facebook is a business. Like Google, it makes money selling advertising space on the billions of pages that individuals, businesses and publishers create.

Facebook has been testing its “related articles” feature since late spring, and it seems to be back in the feeds again, appearing today on the desktop and last night on the iPad.

“Related Stories” are what the advertising business calls “branded headline blocks” that relate to the post in your feed. But make no mistake: they are an advertising tool.

Related Headlines are not being built to increase your Facebook experience. They are being developed as a revenue stream for Facebook. Inclusion in those blocks may not be “sold” yet, but it will be.

So your friend shares an article that includes a recipe. Suddenly, you might find a block of four headlines from publications that feature articles with recipes. To get your headline in that related articles is going to take coin, if not today then tomorrow.

Maybe not always. But if you are not paying, you won’t be playing. Facebook is in the advertising agency game.

In this photo example, CDN Politics follows Ron Paul. He posted a link to an article he (or his social media team) found interest in it. Facebook decided that I might also be interested in similar stories from Rightwingnews.com, Forbes, and TPNN.COM, even though Forbes is the only other publisher we follow on this page.

Facebook timeline entry on CDN Politics
Facebook timeline entry on CDN Politics

Facebook says that the related links are populated by an algorithm that relies on word associations and link popularity to feed those related links. They also claim they do not verify any of the content being shared.

“These news feed units are designed to surface popular links that people are sharing on Facebook,” Facebook spokesman Jessie Baker explained to the Globe. “We don’t make any judgment about whether the content of these links are true or false, just as we don’t make any judgment about whether the content of your status updates are true or false.”

Which could mean that if your daughter states to her feed that she has to take Sex Education in gym this semester, she could be open to receiving all sorts of related links that have the word “sex” as a keyword.

For example, The Boston Globe earlier this year reported on this story, sharing this feed clip, saying

A surprise awaited Facebook users who recently clicked on a link to read a story about Michelle Obama’s encounter with a 10-year-old girl whose father was jobless.

Facebook responded to the click by offering what it called “related articles.” These included one that alleged a Secret Service officer had found the president and his wife having “S*X in Oval Office,” and another that said “Barack has lost all control of Michelle” and was considering divorce.


Boston Glob Facebook Feed
Boston Glob Facebook Feed

It also means that “clickbait” headlines, headlines designed to create outrage and result in a click, could be placed side by side with legitimate original content publishers, like Communities Digital News.

For users, this situation begins to cloud their once-trusting relationship with Facebook. We originally adopted Facebook because it provided a generic and trusted way to find and share information – from personal family news to published news and articles – in a way this was totally organic and honest.

For example, if you do not follow Communities Digital News (and we hope you do), we can’t slip our headlines into your feed. But even though we can’t do it, at least for now, Facebook itself can do it to you and to me.

And boy are we getting it. The majority of users are not happy.

Facebook Forums screenshot
Facebook Forums screenshot

Facebook keeps claiming they are going to “clean up the news feed” in order to decide what is the right content to deliver to the right people at the right time. But for users, particularly those on a table or iPhone, it seems the feed is just getting more cluttered with headlines from sources we don’t necessarily know, or trust. Or want.

That’s because if you want their headlines in my feeds, you would find them organically and follow them. Or Facebook friends would suggest them to you, and you would like them and follow them because you trust your friend.

The only recourse users have to avoid this issue is to never, ever click a headline package link that shows up in your feed unless you want your feed to be inundated with what Facebook deems is related (and branded) material. Even if it features a cute kitty or a salacious (and probably untrue) story about Michelle having sex in the Oval Office.

That’s because the only way we can stop Facebook’s related headlines game is to simply not play.

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  • justshootmenow

    Eeeuwww! Jacquie, although interesting your article didn’t make me any more likely than my kids fussing at me to get a Face Book page to actually do it … old and grumpy I guess.

    • Aaja, I don’t want you to get on Facebook. I wish everyone would boycott them. My suggestions is if you are on it, and annoyed by the related headlines… don’t click them. Join us for DWTS tonight! Monday 8:00pm Live Chat

  • Brian Grover

    So how to turn off these “branded headline blocks”, court order?