Sep 30, 2021 - Podcasts

Cracking down on anti-vax influencers

YouTube announced yesterday that it's cracking down on anti-vaccination information on the site, beyond content just related to the COVID vaccine. The platform has been a major source of misinformation about vaccines since well before the pandemic.

  • Plus, congressional reconciliation, explained.
  • And, why President Biden rejected a meeting with the Palestinian president.

Guests: Axios' Margaret Harding McGill, Alayna Treene, and Barak Ravid.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, Alex Sugiura, and Michael Hanf. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected] You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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Transcript

NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Thursday September 30th. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s how we’re making you smarter today: Congressional reconciliation, explained. Plus, why President Biden rejected a meeting with the Palestinian president.

But first, cracking down on anti-vax influencers is today’s One Big Thing.

YouTube announced yesterday that it's cracking down on anti-vaccination information on its site beyond content just related to the COVID vaccine. The platform has been a major source of misinformation about vaccines since well before the pandemic. Margaret Harding McGill is technology reporter for Axios and has been reporting the story. Hi Margaret.

MARGARET HARDING MCGILL: Thank you for having me.

NIALA: Margaret, thanks for being here. What kind of content is YouTube targeting with this?

MARGARET: So YouTube had a policy that was focused on misinformation specifically related to the COVID-19 vaccines. With that policy in place, they’ve taken 130,000 videos down since October, and now they've decided they want to expand that policy to focus on anti-vaccine misinformation beyond COVID-19. So this is vaccines like measles and mumps vaccines that have been approved and confirmed to be safe and effective by local health authorities and the World Health Organization. And so the types of videos that they're going to take down are ones that claim that vaccines are dangerous. And some of the more common claims that they've run into, the misinformation claims, have been that these vaccines cause cancer or infertility or autism, or even that they contain microchips and YouTube said they expect to take down quite a few.

NIALA: How big of a platform has YouTube been for anti-vax information?

MARGARET: I think social media has obviously been a huge problem for spreading misinformation, particularly related to the pandemic. For YouTube itself, they have said that they've taken down more than a million videos for violating their overall COVID-19 medical misinformation policy. And now they're going to target, with this new policy, they're going to target a few high profile channels like, Robert F. Kennedy Jr.-affiliated Children's Health Defense. And that channel is on the list along with a few others of what the Center for Countering Digital Hate calls their disinformation dozen. And these are 12 anti-vaccine accounts, whether they're on Facebook, Twitter, that they believe are responsible for something like 65% of the misinformation online about vaccines. So YouTube going after especially these prominent channels, I think will have an impact on the anti-vax content online. But it's just one piece of the social media kind of ecosystem.

NIALA: Right, does this put pressure on other platforms like Facebook to do something?

MARGARET: So believe it or not, Facebook actually beat YouTube to this policy. Facebook announced this in February, obviously misinformation on Facebook has continued to be a problem. So even with this new policy, they haven't solved this issue.

NIALA: Have these new policies come too late, especially when we're thinking about we're well into a year of the pandemic?

MARGARET: It seems to me that we have known about anti-vaccine influencers on social media for a very long time. It's not surprising that in that context, vaccine hesitancy around the COVID-19 vaccine kind of took off on social media. And so I think it's an open question as to why these platforms waited so long to ban this information.

NIALA: Margaret Harding McGill is based in Washington, D.C. as a technology reporter for Axios. Thanks Margaret.

MARGARET: Hey thank you for having me.

NIALA: And one other vaccine related headline for you: the CDC yesterday issued an urgent health advisory, strongly recommending that people who are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant get the COVID-19 vaccine. According to the CDC, 31% of pregnant people have been vaccinated against the virus at this point. You can find more on this story at Axios.com.

NIALA: Back in a moment with Alayna Treene and what you need to know about reconciliation.

[ad break]

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo. This is an intense and complicated week on Capitol hill, even by D.C. standards. You've probably been hearing about president Biden's $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill. We've been talking about it for months, but there's also the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package. This is very complicated so I turned to the person I text with questions about this - Axios’ White House and congressional reporter Alayna Treene who is here to tell us what we need to know this Thursday morning. Good morning, Alayna.

ALAYNA TREENE: Good morning, Niala.

NIALA: Can you just start with, what does reconciliation actually mean?

ALAYNA: Reconciliation is part of a budget process on Capitol Hill. And really, I mean, in the simplest terms, is it allows one party in this case, Democrats, since they control both chambers of Congress and the White House, the ability to pass laws, with a simple majority vote, which is, you know, in the Senate, a 51-vote threshold. Democrats had used this process actually to pass the President’s Coronavirus relief package earlier in the year. And again, that was something that got no Republican votes, but still passed because they were able to use this niche budget process that allowed them to do so.

NIALA: Alayna, that's the process. What's actually in this bill?

ALAYNA: Currently everyone's labeling it 3.5. That's the number that Democrats and the President had agreed to. It'll likely be less than 3.5 trillion. But it has a lot of the ambitious proposals that we've heard President Biden and particularly progressives talk about for months - The child tax credit will be part of it, massive climate change proposals are part of this, expanding Medicare. We sometimes refer to this as well as his dual infrastructure proposal. So the 1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure proposal, is the quote unquote “hard infrastructure.” That's when you think about transportation and bridges and roads. Reconciliation, or what they'll be doing with this spending package is all about expanding the social safety net and the White House often refers to as the quote unquote “soft” or human infrastructure bill.

NIALA: So what are, maybe should I say, who are you going to be watching today?

ALAYNA: Well, I think the problem with this bill - it's going to take a lot longer to negotiate it. So some of the key people, again, that we've been hearing a lot from are senators Joe Manchin and Sinema. They've been at the White House. We're also seeing progressives really, you know, holding their weight here. They have been arguing for a long time now that they don't want to pass the 1.2 trillion bipartisan hard infrastructure bill. They want to use it as leverage essentially, to ensure that they don't pass that bill and then moderates, you know, go back on their word per se and not pass the broader, more expansive package. And so that's really a lot of the infighting that's sucking up all the air on Capitol Hill right now.

NIALA: Axios White House and congressional reporter Alayna Treene. Thanks Alayna.

ALAYNA: Thank you so much for having.

NIALA: President Biden took the unusual step of rejecting a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, last week, during the UN General Assembly. Axios’ Barak Ravid sent us this thought bubble on why that matters.

BARAK RAVID: The Palestinian president didn't know if it was worth it for him to come to the UN in person or to just send a recorded speech. And the benchmark was whether he's going to get a meeting with President Biden or not. And when the Palestinians got the answer from the White House that the meeting will not be possible, they just decided to stay home.

I think the most interesting part in this whole story is the fact that it's just another proof of how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in a very, very low place in Biden's foreign policy priority list. I think that if we look in the past, we will see that almost every president used the UN General assembly for meetings with the Palestinians. Some presidents invited the Palestinian leaders to the white house. And for Biden, it seems that this is just not a priority right now.

NIALA: Barak Ravid is the author of Axios’ From Tel Aviv.

Before we go today: it’s autumn, which means it’s migration time for hundreds of species of birds in North America. And BILLIONS, with a B, birds fly overhead on their way South during this season. That also means it’s a super dangerous time for birds, many of which get disoriented by the lights in windows, and crash into the glass. One small way to easily help: consider turning the lights off at night when you don't need them, or closing your blinds, and asking your city to curb its light usage in tall buildings, too.

That’s all we’ve got for you today! I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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