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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Anti-vaccination content that has long appeared in search results and on social media is getting renewed attention after the U.S. government attributed recent measles outbreaks in part to reduced vaccination levels in some areas.

Why it matters: The renewed spotlight on the issue has prompted members of Congress to demand answers from platforms about how they intend to handle conspiracy theories that could impact public safety.

Driving the news: A slew of media reports about anti-vaccination videos thriving on social media services has sent companies scrambling to address them. Most recently, BuzzFeed published a report explaining how the problem is prevalent on YouTube. Health experts are calling on Facebook to manage anti-vaccination groups.

The problem has gotten even more attention as members of Congress begin to publicly address the issue, which has troubled platforms for years.

  • House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff last week sent a letter to Google and Facebook requesting additional information on the steps they're currently taking to provide medically accurate information on vaccinations to users.

The big picture: Tech companies prefer not to serve as content arbiters and have long struggled to balance free-speech ideals with efforts to limit undesirable online interactions like hate speech, bullying and misinformation. But the issue is harder to duck when the spread of false information can lead to real-world harm.

  • For this reason, many companies are taking stronger action against false vaccine-related information than they have in other areas of dubious content.

Each company is addressing the problem differently. Some are removing search results for vaccinations altogether. Others are treating medically inaccurate content like a policy violation.

  • YouTube: The company announced last month it will begin reducing recommendations of borderline content and content that could misinform users in harmful ways, including videos promoting a phony miracle cure for a serious illness. "This includes certain types of anti-vaccination videos," the company says.
  • Google: When it comes to Search, Google says that for queries that pertain to sensitive topics susceptible to misinformation, like health information, it has systems in place to prioritize results from authoritative sources. To help with this process, Google displays knowledge panels at the top of search results for illnesses and conditions with information from authoritative sources and have been evaluated by medical professionals.
  • Facebook: Facebook says it has "taken steps to reduce the distribution of health-related misinformation on Facebook," but says it knows it has more to do. A spokesperson says it's currently working on additional changes that Facebook will be announcing soon. Facebook is considering changes like reducing or removing this type of content from recommendations and demoting it in search results.
  • Twitter: There's no specific policy in place at Twitter to cover anti-vaccination content, but the company argues that the dynamics of its platform mean that readers are more likely to encounter balanced information.
  • Pinterest: The company is currently blocking results for searches like "vaccine" or "vaccination" altogether, saying it doesn't want to lead users down a rabbit hole of potentially harmful advice. However, Axios searches for "vaxxer" or even "autism vaccine" still returned a slew of returns, suggesting it's still fairly easy for a user to be exposed to this content.

The bottom line: In taking action against anti-vaccination content, online platforms are accepting arguments made by health care professionals and policymakers that they should treat it more as an incitement to public harm, like shouting "fire" in a crowded theater, than as reasonable debate.

Go deeper

Perfect storm brewing for extreme politicians

Data: Axios research; Table: Jacque Schrag/Axios

Redistricting and a flood of departing incumbents are paving the way for more extreme candidates in this year's midterm elections.

Driving the news: At least 19 House districts in 12 states are primed to attract such candidates — hard partisans running in strongly partisan districts — according to an Axios analysis of districts as measured by the Cook Political Report's Partisan Voter Index (PVI).

Updated 3 hours ago - Technology

3D printing's next act: big metal objects

Chief Scientist Andy Bayramian makes modifications to the laser system on Seurat's 3D metal printer. Photo courtesy of Seurat Technologies.

A new metal 3D printing technology could revolutionize the way large industrial products like planes and cars are made, reducing the cost and carbon footprint of mass manufacturing.

Why it matters: 3D printing — also called additive manufacturing — has been used since the 1980s to make small plastic parts and prototypes. Metal printing is newer, and the challenge has been figuring out how to make things like large car parts faster and cheaper than traditional methods.

Updated 5 hours ago - Technology

Mayors see cryptocurrency as a way to address income inequality

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

At the U.S. Conference of Mayors' meeting in D.C. this week, there's buzz around the idea of giving cryptocurrency accounts to low-income people.

Why it matters: Cities have been experimenting with newfangled ways to address income inequality — like guaranteed income programs — and the latest wave of trials could involve paying benefits or dividends in bitcoin, stablecoin or other digital currencies.