Facebook bans “cloaking” of spam sites that fool filters

“Cloaking” sounds sci-fi but it’s actually trick used today by spammers to show content moderators or search engine spiders an innocent looking version of their site while real visitors just see ads and scams. For example, some spammers try to fool Facebook’s review team and tech by showing any of its staffers a benign landing page for links or ads, while everyone else sees diet pill scams or porn that violate Facebook’s community standards and ad policies.

So today, Facebook is cracking down on cloaking. Facebook ads product director Rob Leathern tells me now when it discovers a site using cloaking, “We’ll deactivate their ad counts, we’ll kick them off, we’ll get rid of their Pages.” Facebook will use both humans and expanded artificial intelligence systems to root out cloakers.

Innocent businesses should see no impact. Since “There’s no legitimate use case for cloaking” Leathern says, “If we find it, it doesn’t really matter who that actor is. They’re usually bad actors and spammers by definition. So the line is if any one does this in any way, shape, or form, we want them off the platform.”

The change comes as part of a multi-pronged attack on hoaxes, clickbait, spam, and low quality sites following criticism that Facebook didn’t prevent fake news from influencing the 2016 presidential election.

According to a recent study of 4 million posts by over 450 Facebook Pages spreading  hyperpartisan political news, BuzzFeed concluded that “Publishers are obsessed with Facebook’s algorithm changes and with avoiding getting caught up in the social network’s stepped-up initiative to reduce clickbait and misinformation in the News Feed.”