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Resurgence of "conspiracy theories" humbles misinformation police

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 have 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.

Reports: Trump DOJ subpoenaed Apple for records of WH counsel Don McGahn

Apple told former Trump administration White House counsel Don McGahn last month that the Department of Justice subpoenaed information about accounts of his in 2018, the New York Times first reported Sunday.

Why it matters: Although it's unclear why the DOJ took the action, such a move against a senior lawyer representing the presidency is highly unusual.

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Pelosi demands Barr and Sessions testify on data subpoenas she says go "beyond Richard Nixon"

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told CNN Sunday that former Attorneys General William Barr and Jeff Sessions should testify before Congress on reports that the Trump-era Department of Justice seized Democrats' and journalists' data records.

Driving the news: DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz announced Friday an internal investigation into the matter, and Pelosi expressed disbelief to CNN's Dana Brash at assertions that neither Barr nor Sessions knew of probes into lawmakers.

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Shipping giant CEO says business have to avoid global politics

The CEO of the world's largest container-shipping company cautions that international firms have to be careful of taking political stances.

  • What they're saying: "We cannot run a global business if we start to have views on politics in every single country that we are in," Maersk CEO Søren Skou tells "Axios on HBO."
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Chamber of Commerce CEO Suzanne Clark defends overture to Democrats

U.S. Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Suzanne Clark told me on "Axios on HBO" that the business group was right to endorse vulnerable House Democrats last year, despite the flak that resulted from Republicans.

  • Clark, who took over the top job in March, said those House Democrats "had really helped push business's number one priority, which was the free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, over the finish line."
  • "All of the Republicans that we work with on tax, on regulation — those people are really, really important to us," she added: "So we have to be willing to have a different coalition on every issue."
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Nuclear watchdog: “Essential” to have deal with Iran

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency tells "Axios on HBO" that it's "essential" to have a nuclear deal with Iran because otherwise "we are flying blind."

Driving the news: Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi sat down with "Axios on HBO" at IAEA headquarters in Vienna, ahead of Iran's June 18 presidential election and a June 24 extension on negotiations seeking to restore curtailed surveillance of Iranian nuclear sites and salvage the 2015 deal.

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U.N. ambassador Thomas-Greenfield sees tough Putin summit

Photo: "Axios on HBO"

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., told me on "Axios on HBO" that President Biden will be candid, frank — and tough — during this week's summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

  • "The president will make clear to the Russians that they cannot harbor cyber terrorists and criminals in their country and not be held accountable for it," she added. "And they need to take the responsibility for dealing with this issue."
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Dems’ go-it-alone approach faces big hurdles as left’s frustrations spill over

If a bipartisan group of lawmakers fails to strike a deal on the infrastructure proposal it's negotiating with the White House, ramming through a package using the partisan reconciliation process isn't a guaranteed solution.

Why it matters: Getting 51 Democratic votes would be a long, uphill battle. And moderates within the party are balking at the cost of President Biden's spending — even as progressives openly lament that the "transformational" change they seek is slipping out of reach.

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America's U.N. ambassador: "I will always push for women to be part of negotiation teams"

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., has argued over her 39-year diplomatic career that educating and empowering women and girls is an investment in peace and security for their nations.

  • "I will always push for women to be part of negotiation teams," she told me in the State Department Treaty Room, during an interview for "Axios on HBO."
  • "I notice ... when they're not in the room. ... Sometimes I'm the only one," she added with a laugh. "And I will call it out."
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