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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.

Why the startup world needs to ditch "unicorns" for "dragons"

When Aileen Lee originally coined the term "unicorn" in late 2013, she was describing the 39 "U.S.-based software companies started since 2003 and valued at over $1 billion by public or private market investors."

Flashback: It got redefined in early 2015 by yours truly and Erin Griffith, in a cover story for Fortune, as any privately-held startup valued at $1 billion or more. At the time, we counted 80 of them.

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Scoop: Facebook's new moves to lower News Feed's political volume

Facebook plans to announce that it will de-emphasize political posts and current events content in the News Feed based on negative user feedback, Axios has learned. It also plans to expand tests to limit the amount of political content that people see in their News Feeds to more countries outside of the U.S.

Why it matters: The changes could reduce traffic to some news publishers, particularly companies that post a lot of political content.

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Scoop: Amazon quietly getting into live audio business

Amazon is investing heavily in a new live audio feature that's similar to other live audio offerings like Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces and Spotify's new live audio platform, sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: As with Amazon's efforts in podcasting and music subscriptions, the company sees live audio as a way to bolster the types of content it can offer through its voice assistant, Alexa, and its smart speaker products.

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Hurricane Ida exposes America's precarious energy infrastructure

The powerful hurricane that plunged New Orleans into darkness for what could be weeks is the latest sign that U.S. power systems are not ready for a warmer, more volatile world.

The big picture: “Our current infrastructure is not adequate when it comes to these kinds of weather extremes,” Joshua Rhodes, a University of Texas energy expert, tells Axios.

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"We must go further": 70% of adults in European Union are fully vaccinated

About 70% of adults in the European Union are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said Tuesday.

Why it matters: The milestone makes the E.U. one of the world's leaders in inoculations, after an initially lagging vaccine campaign, the New York Times notes.

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What Elizabeth Holmes jurors will be asked ahead of fraud trial

Jury selection begins today in USA v. Elizabeth Holmes, with the actual jury trial to get underway on Sept. 8.

Why it matters: Theranos was the biggest fraud in Silicon Valley history, putting both hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of patients' health at risk.

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