Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The major online platforms' long struggle to cope with floods of misinformation has reached a new pitch of urgency during the coronavirus pandemic — just as the fight has become harder than ever.

Driving the news: In the most recent controversy, One America News Network — a small rival to Fox News that is President Trump's current favorite — aired a segment Friday, also posted on YouTube, that makes conspiracy-theory-style connections between China, the "deep state," George Soros, Bill Gates, and the Clintons.

The big picture: Although Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have gotten better at spotting and stopping coordinated information warfare (disinformation), they still struggle with false claims spread by people who sincerely believe them (misinformation).

  • When the pandemic arrived, all three pledged to move against false coronavirus-related postings, since lives are on the line.
  • For example, YouTube has taken down thousands of videos for spreading misinformation, product chief Neal Mohan told Axios last month. Twitter and Facebook have also taken action in some — but not all — cases.
  • YouTube and Facebook have fully taken down clips from a documentary titled "Plandemic" that makes some claims similar to the OANN segment, citing violations of their coronavirus misinformation policies.

Yes, but: Two factors have thrown a wrench into the platforms' efforts to stem the coronavirus misinformation tide.

  • It's a new disease and there's a lot we don't actually know for sure, making it hard for content moderators to draw clear distinctions between what's true and what's not.
  • Enough business and political leaders have lined up in opposition to the scientific consensus that fringe positions have moved into the mainstream — without supporting evidence but with loud voices amplifying them.

Details: Three recent examples that have challenged the platforms' policy, each with different outcomes:

1. The One America News Network segment was titled "Deep State, China use COVID-19 for population control: Soros, Clintons, Gates suspected of Beijing-WHO cover-up to seize COVID-19 cure, undo U.S. Constitution."

  • Some have questioned how YouTube is allowing the segment to remain up given its misinformation policies.
  • YouTube told Axios it has reviewed the video and deemed it “borderline content” that doesn’t meet the bar for outright removal but won’t appear in search or recommendations.

2. President Trump's discussion at an April 23 press conference about whether it might make sense to fight the virus by using disinfectant or UV light on patients posed thorny challenges for the social media platforms.

  • Twitter, for example, has banned claims about unproven or potentially harmful cures.
  • However, it declined to take down content that included Trump's remarks, saying they weren't definitive.

3. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has repeatedly spoken out in opposition to accepted health guidelines — even those from Brazilian authorities — regarding social distancing and other measures. In that case, Facebook and YouTube removed some of Bolsonaro's videos.

The bottom line: Prominent people are spreading dangerous misinformation about the virus. And it's having real-world impact.

  • The most dramatic example of that impact was a rise in people calling poison control centers after ingesting household cleaners.
  • But far larger numbers are being exposed to arguments that the virus is a hoax, or promulgated by Bill Gates.

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Aug 6, 2020 - Technology

Female members of Congress to Facebook: Do better

Photo: Graeme Jennings via Getty Images

Facebook must do better to protect women in politics, who face a barrage of sexism, hate and harassment on the platform, members of the Democratic Women Caucus including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote to the social network Thursday.

Context: Facebook, under heavy scrutiny for misinformation, privacy and antitrust concerns, recently kept a doctored video of Pelosi up, though fact checkers labeled it as "partly false." The platform came under fire for not removing a doctored video of Pelosi in 2019 as well.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 19,648,084 — Total deaths: 727,024 — Total recoveries — 11,941,723Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 4,998,105 — Total deaths: 162,425 — Total recoveries: 1,643,118 — Total tests: 61,080,587Map.
  3. Politics: Trump signs 4 executive actions on coronavirus aid — Democrats, and some Republicans, criticize the move
  4. Public health: Fauci says chances are "not great" that COVID-19 vaccine will be 98% effective — 1 in 3 Americans would decline COVID-19 vaccine.
  5. Science: Indoor air is the next coronavirus frontline.
  6. Schools: How back-to-school is playing out in the South as coronavirus rages on — Princeton, Johns Hopkins, Howard to hold fall classes online.
Updated 5 hours ago - World

Brazil coronavirus death toll tops 100,000 and case numbers surpass 3 million

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro posted a photo of himself to Facebook congratulating his soccer team, Palmeiras, for winning the state title Saturday, moments after the health ministry confirmed the national COVID-19 death toll had surpassed 100,000.

Why it matters: Brazil is only the second country to confirm more than 100,000 deaths from the coronavirus. On Sunday morning, it became the second country to surpass 3 million cases, per Johns Hopkins. Only the U.S. has reported more. Bolsonaro has yet to address the milestones. He has previously tested positive for COVID-19 three times, but he's downplayed the impact of the virus, which has crippled Brazil's economy.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with the latest coronavirus case numbers and more context.