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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

DC Attorney General Karl Racine has subpoenaed Facebook for documents and data to determine whether the company has kept its word about reducing vaccine misinformation on its platform, his office revealed Thursday.

Why it matters: Research has indicated that exposure to online COVID-19 misinformation can make Americans less willing to be vaccinated.

Driving the news: As part of a consumer protection investigation into Facebook, Racine's office subpoenaed the company in June seeking:

  • A Facebook study about COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among users revealed in a Washington Post story in March.
  • Documents identifying Facebook groups, pages and accounts that have violated the company's COVID-19 misinformation policy related to vaccines.
  • The total volume of content that has been removed or demoted by Facebook for violating the vaccine misinformation policy.
  • Details on the resources Facebook is devoting to combatting vaccine misinformation, including identifying the volume of content awaiting a fact checking review for vaccine misinformation.

What they're saying: “Facebook has said it’s taking action to address the proliferation of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation on its site," a spokesperson with the DC AG's office said in a statement. "But then when pressed to show its work, Facebook refused."

  • "AG Racine’s investigation aims to make sure Facebook is truly taking all steps possible to minimize vaccine misinformation on its site and support public health.”

Flashback: Facebook said in February it would take tougher action against pandemic misinformation, including claims that the COVID-19 vaccine is not effective or safe.

  • In a statement, a Facebook spokesperson said: "We’ve connected over 2 billion people to resources from health authorities, including through our COVID-19 Information Center. We've removed more than 18 million pieces of content on Facebook and Instagram that violate our COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation policies, and labeled more than 167 million pieces of COVID-19 content rated false by our network of fact checking partners."

Editor's note: This story has been updated with comment from Facebook.

Go deeper

YouTube allows COVID misinformation to stay up

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

YouTube decided last month to ban "harmful vaccine content" from the site, thereby cutting off a major vector of misinformation. Yet one especially high-profile and dangerous vaccine misinformation channel in Germany remains up and running.

Why it matters: When tech giants announce major policy changes, there's always a suspicion they're doing so for their domestic audience, and specifically for U.S. journalists and policymakers. Which makes it easy for them to ignore content made in Berlin.

Dissecting Google's climate denial crackdown

Google's new policy of demonetizing climate denial content marks a significant step in its efforts to rein in climate misinformation.

Why it matters: Videos promoting clear falsehoods about the existence of global warming or its causes have long found a home on YouTube, which Google owns.

Oct 7, 2021 - Technology

Google, YouTube to prohibit ads and monetization on climate denial content

Photo by Olly Curtis/Future via Getty Images

Google and YouTube on Thursday announced a new policy that prohibits climate deniers from being able to monetize their content on its platforms via ads or creator payments.

Why it matters: It's one of the most aggressive measures any major tech platform has taken to combat climate change misinformation.