The social network's algorithms decide what stories and status updates appear on users' homepages and can make or break publishers overnight

Facebook wants you to read less ‘click-bait’ online and is willing to mess with your Newsfeed to make sure it happens.

The social networking site announced major changes to its algorithms this week aimed at discouraging the spread of “stories with ‘click-bait’ headlines” that “drown out content from friends and Pages that people really care about”.

The site’s data scientists are defining click-bait articles as those with headlines that encourage users to “click to see more, without telling them much information about what they will see” – in other words articles that claim the reader will “never believe what happens next” and the like.  

Facebook will work out what is and is not click-bait by measuring the amount of time people spend off the site: if someone follows a link but bounces right back then Facebook figures that the story was under-selling on its headline and was therefore click-bait.

Publishers that post these kinds of stories will be penalised, with fewer of their stories appearing in Facebook’s Newsfeed; a big blow to certain sites that rely on Facebook to drive traffic – and therefore ad revenue – through tantalising and often misleading headlines.

Facebook says that in a survey it found that 80 per cent of users preferred to be shown headlines “that helped them decide if they wanted to read the full article before they had to click through” and that it would also be encouraging publishers to share stories in a format that is as explicit as possible.

These changes aren’t unusual for the social networking site, which has frequently been vocal about supporting “quality” journalism and has even launched its own dedicated app in the US to solidify its status as the de facto portal for reading news online.

However, some critics have pointed out that measuring time off-site might not be the perfect way to identify click-bait stories - many of which incorporate lengthy videos and pre-roll ads that keep readers occupied (and frustrated) for much longer.