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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Social media companies are trying to walk the line between banning false information and overreacting to merely unverified information.

Driving the news: In its effort to keep misinformation off of its platform, Facebook for months banned posts promoting the "lab leak" theory of COVID-19's origins — only to reverse itself now that the theory is increasingly being considered plausible.

The big picture: Rather than emphasize consistency, platforms have zigged and zagged their policies as the news cycle evolves.

  • Over the last year, Facebook has bounced between policing coronavirus misinformation, adding labels to those posts, deciding that vaccine misinformation wasn't subject to the same standards as COVID posts — and then reversing that policy in February.
  • The minefield around COVID origins goes back a ways: last year, Twitter banned financial blog Zero Hedge's account after it posted an article linking a Chinese doctor at the Wuhan Institute of Virology to the virus outbreak. It then reinstated the account months later after determining that the suspension was an error.

Between the lines: Many of the most controversial, polarizing topics that animate internet discourse exist within factual gray areas that allow wide latitude between unknowns and misinformation.

  • Social media platforms have been under intense pressure to address the misinformation, but have trouble deciphering between shutting down dangerous posts and being too strict when the facts aren't resolved.

In recent weeks, mainstream attitudes about UFOs and Jeffrey Epstein's death have been challenged, showing at least that outright dismissal of alternative scenarios might be too heavy-handed.

The bottom line: This problem illustrates why the social media platforms fought so hard to not have to be the speech police, though that ship has long sailed.

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Health

White House acknowledges U.S. will miss July 4 vaccination goal

Fireworks in New York City to celebrate the state reaching a 70% vaccination rate. Photo: Liao Pan/China News Service via Getty Images

The Biden administration acknowledged on Tuesday that it will likely miss its goal of vaccinating 70% of U.S. adults with at least one dose by July 4.

Why it matters: Despite falling short of the goal, the White House still believes most Americans will be safe to fully celebrate Independence Day, as COVID-19 cases and deaths remain at low levels throughout much of the country.

Exclusive: Quartz, NYT vets launch new media company about work

Photo credit: Emma Howells for Charter

Quartz co-founders Kevin Delaney and Jay Lauf, along with New York Times veteran Erin Grau, are launching a new media and services company called "Charter" that is centered around the future of work, the founders told Axios.

Why it matters: "There are other media companies that write about this topic — some occasionally and some more frequently, but it's one topic among many things that they do," Delaney said. "This is a driving focus for us."

Biden endorses bill to end sentencing disparity for crack and powder cocaine

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The Biden administration endorsed a bill Tuesday that would end sentencing disparities for crack versus powder cocaine offenses.

The big picture: Supporting the legislation follows through on one of Biden's campaign promises. But it's a shift from decades ago, when Biden spearheaded efforts to pass the legislation that implemented the disparities in the first place.

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