Dear Facebook, more news please?

Story highlights

  • Aguilar: Facebook and other social media platforms are critical engines for storytelling
  • Facebook's changes to news feed will hurt users by only showing same old stories, she says

Amara Aguilar is an associate professor of professional practice in digital journalism at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

(CNN)Dear Facebook,

It's called a news feed. It should have news in it.
You recently changed your algorithm to make posts by friends and family appear higher in news feeds, which basically means news feeds won't have as much actual "news" prioritized in them.
    Amara Aguilar
    This is a blow to media organizations, but even more than that, it will hurt your users.
    Stories are what connect us. Stories from friends and family, yes, but also stories we haven't heard yet. Media organizations give us stories outside of our comfort zone. We need those stories.
    Journalism contributes to a democratic society. Ideally, it informs people so they can make their own choices. You are limiting those choices by pushing publishers lower in a user's news feed. (Note: CNN is one of the publishers affected by this decision.)
    Facebook, you have a lot of power and with that a weighty responsibility within society and the media ecosystem. It's time to step up and realize the impact you have on the dissemination of information.
    Many media organizations have flocked to Facebook to engage audiences, create community and tell compelling stories. You at some level recognize that this is valuable -- you are even paying some of them to create content. However, even though not every story will go viral or get a lot of shares, that doesn't mean every story shouldn't receive the opportunity to be seen at all.
    Don't get me wrong. I love connecting with friends and family on Facebook, but I also log on to Facebook to see stories from my favorite media organizations high in my feed. That's why I "liked" BuzzFeed's page or The New York Times' page. I rarely look at their websites (sorry, BF and NYT). I get a lot of my news on social media. And so do a lot of other people in the US, according to the Pew Research Center.
    And now you are taking part of that away from your users. You say the challenge you now face is "far too much information for any one person to consume." Well, then, let's just take out the most important stories from news organizations and journalists who inform us of what's going on in the world and fill everyone's feed with cuddly kittens, travel photos and viral stories with the most shares. That's definitely more important than widening someone's view of the world.
    All the while, you are claiming as part of your "News Feed Values" that the goal of the feed is "to show people the stories that are most relevant to them." Well, according to whom? According to what someone's inner circle of friends and family share, and according to your algorithm? I like Chewbacca Mom as much as the next person, but that's not the only thing I want to see all over my "news" feed.
    Facebook, you have a unique opportunity to engage people, especially young people, in a larger world, with diverse views, news and stories outside the scope of friends and family. Please take advantage of that opportunity.
    You say in your "News Feed Values" that a user's "feed should inform." Yes, please. That should also include informing users about the world and stories they may not get because people in their circle of family and friends, who could have similar backgrounds and beliefs, didn't share them.
    You say that Facebook is "a platform for all ideas." I assume that means all ideas from our family and friends, because those are the ideas we'll all be seeing from now on. You say, "We are not in the business of picking which issues the world should read about." Really? Well, who's in charge of the algorithm then?
    You say that your "integrity depends on being inclusive of all perspectives and viewpoints, and using ranking to connect people with the stories and sources they find the most meaningful and engaging." Again, the algorithm change doesn't reflect this affirmation of inclusivity, because many times, when people go outside the circle of family and friends, they find even more diverse perspectives. And now your users are not only disincentivized to venture beyond their own circles, they are also functionally hindered by your algorithm from indulging their curiosity.
    You say: "We don't favor specific kinds of sources — or ideas." Yes, you do. Again, family and friends. Many of us enjoy using your platform to communicate with family and friends, but times have changed -- and in large measure, you're the one who changed them. You and your users alike have made Facebook, like other social media platforms, a space that can foster engagement, community and storytelling. To act now as if Facebook's news feed is just for family and friends is a myopic throwback at best.
    Facebook, you say you view your work "as only 1 percent finished." I seriously hope this is only 1 percent, because you have a long way to go. You say you will "continue soliciting feedback."
    Well, here's mine: Put some actual news back at the top of my news feed.