Bengaluru: After tapping into online payments through WhatsApp and e-commerce through its marketplace, Facebook is now eyeing the regional content space in India. The social media giant is in early-stage talks with several content startups, including PopXo, a digital community for women, for potential investments, said two people familiar with the matter.

“Over the last one month, Facebook has started meeting content startups—vertical content and news," said the first person cited above. “This is the first time Facebook is meeting content startups for investments. They met a few earlier in the month and some more later this month."

Facebook is also trying to figure out on how to structure investments in India, said the second person cited above.

2019 is a crucial year for Facebook owing to the forthcoming general elections in India, which is one of the largest markets for the tech giant. Mint reported earlier this month that Facebook plans to start an operations centre in Delhi in a bid to prevent the spread of fake news ahead of the Lok Sabha Elections 2019.

Several experts Mint spoke with believe that Facebook’s interest in investing in vertical content and news content startups could be because the company needs strong partners who will continue to build on its ecosystem and will also make Facebook a “trusted source of information".

“Facebook hasn’t been able to crack the vernacular content space," said a person familiar with Facebook’s strategy, requesting anonymity. “They are looking at more sources of content and are also looking at moderating and controlling fake news, which is why they would want to look at more credible sources of content through these startups."

Several digital publishers are hugely dependent on Facebook for traffic, which takes a hit whenever the social media giant changes its algorithm, forcing publishers to seek alternative growth routes. The reduction of dependency by such firms could be a possible threat to Facebook.

If any of the talks with content startups fructify into an investment for Facebook, it would also be a departure from the social media giant’s usual strategy of buying companies outright. Globally, Facebook has made over 50 acquisitions, the biggest among of them being photo sharing platform Instagram and messaging platform WhatsApp.

A Facebook spokesperson said the company works “with the entire content ecosystem in the country, including a wide variety of partners from movie studios, to TV networks and publishers to celebrities and creators and from large organizations to startups". The spokesperson did not comment on any potential investment plans in content startups.

“All major social media platforms engage with other digital platforms and publishers on a regular basis," said Priyanka Gill, founder and chief executive of PopXo. “We are not in any specific talks at the present."

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