Facebook will begin paying UK news publishers for some articles with the launch of Facebook News in January.
The feature adds a dedicated news tab to the Facebook app, and has already launched in the United States.
Facebook said it will “pay publishers for content that is not already on the platform” and prioritise original reporting.
It comes after years of tension between Facebook and news publishers, who have often accused it of “stealing” content.
But hundreds of UK news outlets are already signed up to deals for the new feature, Facebook said.
They include publishers such as Hearst (Cosmopolitan, Elle, Esquire); the Guardian Media group; regional newspaper giant JPI Media; and the Midland News Association.
Facebook said it expects more publishers to join after the launch.
The news tab is only available on the mobile app – not in a web browser.
But Facebook said its launch in the US has shown it that 95% of the traffic to Facebook News publishers through that tab, are new readers who “have not interacted with those news outlets in the past”.
That may sound promising for news outlets trying to increase their audience on Facebook, as news accounts for only about 4% of a user’s main “news feed”.
The deals struck between Facebook and publishers are not public, so it is not known how lucrative they could be for struggling news outlets.
But previous efforts to bring publishers into the fold have not always been a success.
Over the years, Facebook has encouraged news publishers to produce video for its platform and has changed the algorithms that govern its main user feed at the expense of news.
It has also tried to drive publishers to use its instant articles feature, which limits advertising and other features of the publisher’s website.
Facebook has always insisted it doesn’t want to make editorial decisions. It outsources fact-checking to organisations like Full Fact, and will outsource curation of this news service to an organisation called Upday, tasked with surfacing “reliable” and “relevant” news, whatever an on-the-day editor decides that means.
This initiative crosses a commercial rubicon. The company has always directed traffic back to publishers, but this is the first time that Facebook will pay news publishers for their work.
For more than a decade, the likes of Rupert Murdoch’s News UK – as well as many local publishers – have argued that big tech companies carry their content without paying for it, and so act as leeches.
This move will begin to weaken that argument. Some of the publishers paid by Facebook will be struggling local titles, dependent for their future on the flattering interest of a Californian tech giant.
Yet, as recently as 2018, Mark Zuckerberg said he wouldn’t pay publishers for content.
This new move is a loud gesture to British regulators, saying Facebook will invest in public goods such as journalism, provided the regulatory environment is favourable.