Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on the day's biggest business stories

Subscribe to Axios Closer for insights into the day’s business news and trends and why they matter

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Stay on top of the latest market trends

Subscribe to Axios Markets for the latest market trends and economic insights. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Axios on your phone

Get breaking news and scoops on the go with the Axios app.

Download for free.

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sign up for Axios NW Arkansas

Stay up-to-date on the most important and interesting stories affecting NW Arkansas, authored by local reporters

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Social media giants keep trotting out jaw-dropping stats about fake accounts and rule-violating posts they're removing. But the number that matters most is how much misinformation remains up. 

Driving the news: CEOs of Facebook, Google and Twitter will recite more numbers Thursday, when their CEOs testify at a marquee hearing before a Congressional committee investigating online misinformation.

The big picture: These companies report takedown numbers to show us they're working hard to police their digital precincts. Critics counter that the size of the numbers tells us that the problem remains out of control.

Either way, this data is impossible to assess without some measure of the total universe of misinformation from which the companies' enforcement actions are subtracting.

  • Even after the platforms have removed mountains of posts and accounts, we know there's still some volume of misinformation online — whether it's conspiracy theories, anti-vaccination propaganda, or false election claims — because reporters keep unearthing examples. But we don't know exactly how much.
  • Researchers and third parties — like Avaaz, a nonprofit that released a report this week on election-related misinformation that Facebook disputes — try to fill that gap, but they don't have the same access to realtime data as the company.

Why it matters: Without knowing the total extent of social media misinformation and how much is left after the platforms' enforcement, all the takedown data in the world won't tell you whether the platforms are winning or losing the fight.

Here's why this data is so elusive:

First, we want to put a number on posts the companies missed in their enforcement efforts — but the companies can't count what they failed to catch.

  • In its regular transparency reports, Facebook does report what it calls a "prevalence rate" for different kinds of content violations — a sort of "parts per million" measure, like we use for air pollution, that estimates how often readers are likely to encounter such content.
  • "Prevalence" is a fascinating metric that gives us a sense of the relative volume of different kinds of problem posts, and over time it can offer some sense of which kinds Facebook is making headway against.
  • But the categories themselves — including "Adult Nudity and Sexual Activity," "Bullying and Harassment," "Dangerous Organizations: Organized Hate," and 9 others — are limited.

This is where a second problem emerges: "Misinformation" itself isn't one of Facebook's categories, everyone defines it differently, and the issues where the public, politicians and the press focus their outrage keep evolving.

  • False claims about election results and false information about COVID vaccines are the two likeliest kinds of misinformation to be on the committee's agenda Thursday.
  • Yet neither of those types fits into any of the categories of content violation that Facebook has tracked in its past transparency reports.
  • By the time the company does start tracking them, we may well face another crisis involving a new kind of misinformation problem.

Between the lines: Even when a misinformation category is well-defined and enforcement is effective, social media platforms face a tough challenge with so-called "borderline content" — posts that don't outright violate a service's rules but still raise questions about misinformation-rife realms like election fraud or vaccines.

  • Removing such posts raises free-speech questions, but leaving them untouched can put the public in danger. Those concerns motivated Facebook's recent efforts to study and counter vaccine hesitancy, as reported in the Washington Post.

Of note: Researchers — including that Facebook study — keep finding that social media misinformation with high impact gets spread by a relatively small number of users and groups. Solving the problem will likely involve finding ways to act against them.

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.