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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

More corporations are requiring workers to get vaccinated

Graphic: Axios Visuals

Life for the unvaccinated could get more difficult as bosses increasingly move to make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory.

The big picture: The federal Government in May said that it is legal for companies to require employees to get vaccinated for coronavirus.

White House: Over 500,000 new shots recorded Friday, highest since July 1

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The United States recorded more than half a million new COVID-19 vaccine shots on Friday, the highest number since July 1, White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

Why it matters: The Delta variant is continuing to spread across the United States and it now comprises over 80% of the coronavirus cases in the country, Jean-Pierre said. A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that "vaccination is the most important strategy to prevent severe illness and death."

Biden to announce sanctions, other efforts to address crisis in Cuba amid protests

Photo: Sarah Silbiger/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden will announce sanctions against one entity and two Cuban individuals this afternoon and provide details on his administration's efforts to improve internet connectivity in Cuba, a senior administration official said Friday.

Why it matters: After initially hoping to place the issue on the back burner, the White House has recently ramped up its focus on Cuba amid protests on the island and in the United States, congressional backlash and political pressure from the South Florida Cuban community.

  • The president is also expected to make announcements on remittances and plans for U.S. embassy augmentation, the official said.
  • The official noted that the administration is in talks with private sector providers about the possibility of providing wireless LTE communications to the Cuban people.
  • "Given the protest of July 11, it is important for U.S. diplomats to engage directly with the Cuban people and if we can do that in a way that ensures the safety of U.S. personnel, that is something that we will undertake," he said, noting that the president would announce more details later this afternoon.

The details: The president will meet today with Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), a Cuban-American, and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), among other political and community leaders and artists.

  • Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), an outspoken voice on Cuban issues, is not expected to attend the meeting.
  • The meeting follows a series of engagements by Cedric Richmond and the Office of Public Engagement with the Cuban-American community, the official said.

What they're saying: "We're gonna do everything we can to keep Cuba on the front burner, so we can keep the conversation on the rights of the Cuban people and their rights to manifest peacefully," the official said on the call with reporters.

Be smart: Cuba is a tricky political issue for Democrats, who are split on the matter. The president was defeated by Donald Trump in South Florida during the 2020 election, and Democrats fear similar results, particularly in the upcoming midterms, if they mishandle the situation.

Go deeper: The newly announced sanctions today will follow already imposed sanctions against Cuban officials and entities allegedly responsible for human rights abuses during the government's crackdown on island-wide protests earlier this month.