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Photo: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Facebook is purging 559 pages and 251 accounts that have demonstrated spammy behavior that violate its rules, a spokesperson tells Axios. Many of the accounts removed are from hyper-partisan political pages and accounts.

Why it matters: Spam content often reflects society's emotions and obsessions — like diet pill scams and celebrity gossip. Facebook's finding an increase in spam activity around political content is a sign of how radicalized U.S. users have become around political extremes.

Details: Facebook says the takedowns may have impacted more right-leaning hyper-partisan Pages, but many left-leaning hyper-partisan pages were removed, too.

  • However, the company says it didn't take political leanings into account when evaluating which accounts and pages violated its standards, because the content itself wasn't the problem.
  • Rather, it was the spammy tactics used to spread the content (like pushing the same stories across massive numbers of groups at once) that violate Facebook's spam policies, because they annoy users. 

Facebook says today's version of spam on its platform is used to drive people to ad farm websites, which violates Facebook's policies.

  • According to Facebook, these spammers artificially inflate engagement in the News Feed by creating many posts in different Facebook groups at the same time to build traffic to ad farms quickly.
  • Others use fake accounts or multiple accounts with the same names to post a lot of content across a network of groups and pages to drive traffic to their websites, where they can make money from ads.

Between the lines: One of the problems with this spammy behavior, Facebook says, is that these actors often use news stories or opinions that are hard to distinguish from legitimate political debate. This is why the company tries to identify spam by evaluating the behavior used to share the content, not the actual content.

Be smart: This type of spammy behavior (using hyper-political content to drive engagement and make ad money) has been around for some time.

  • For example, a study from social media analytics NewsWhip found last year that there’s a high proportion of emoji "reactions" to "likes" for hyper-partisan posts.
  • Hyper-partisan publishers, they found, "are highly adept at provoking their followers into selecting a strong emotion rather than just a like," which helps to elevate their content in Facebook's News Feed, driving more clicks and ad money.

What's next? Expect some people to allege bias by Facebook after the removal of their accounts.

  • It's possible some actors will use this purge as an opportunity to allege that Facebook is being biased against certain political viewpoints, and in particular conservative viewpoints.
  • In reality, no solid evidence has ever supported the claim that Facebook discriminates against particular political viewpoints, despite Congressional hearings and investigations by advocacy groups into the claim.

Go deeper

Students vandalize and steal from schools for viral TikTok challenge

TikTok logo displayed on a phone screen in Krakow, Poland on July 18, 2021. Photo: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A viral TikTok challenge is leading students nationwide to shatter mirrors, steal fire alarms and intentionally clog toilets, The Washington Post reports.

Driving the news: Dubbed the the “Devious Licks challenge, students are showing off their "devious licks" on TikTok — with a sped-up version of "Ski Ski BasedGod" by rapper Lil’ B playing in the background.

Axios-Ipsos poll: People of color face more environmental threats

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Data: Axios/Ipsos poll; Note: ±2.5% margin of error; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

Americans of color are much less likely than white Americans to experience good air quality or tap water or enough trees or green space in their communities, and they're more likely to face noise pollution and litter, a new Axios-Ipsos poll finds.

The big picture: Our national survey shows Black and Hispanic Americans are more likely than their white counterparts to live near major highways or industrial or manufacturing plants — and to have dealt in the past year with water-boil notices or power outages lasting more than 24 hours.

18 hours ago - Health

FDA advisory panel recommends Pfizer boosters for those 65 and older

A healthcare worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Key Biscayne Community Center on Aug. 24, 2021. Photo: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A key Food and Drug Administration advisory panel on Friday overwhelmingly voted against recommending Pfizer vaccine booster shots for younger Americans, but unanimously recommended approving the third shots for individuals 65 and older, as well as those at high-risk of severe COVID-19.

Why it matters: While the votes are non-binding, and the FDA must still make a final decision, Friday's move pours cold water on the Biden administration's plan to begin administering boosters to most individuals who received the Pfizer vaccine later this month.