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Stories You Might Have Missed This Week

Instagram will warn users about anti-vax content, drilling plans for California are moving forward, and penguin poop is good for biodiversity.
King penguins march behind an elephant seal.

King penguins march behind an elephant seal.

This week at Pacific Standard, we brought you stories on how state laws restricting post-incarceration name changes affect trans people, whether or not health-care providers should be allowed to opt out of providing birth control, and how the Trump administration's policies are adding to the extinction crisis.

But it's been a busy week, and, as usual, our small newsroom has been following many more stories than we can cover. Here are a few other developments we've been watching.

A New Instagram Feature Will Use Artificial Intelligence to Warn Users About Anti-Vax Content

As America's measles crisis continues, social media platforms are making efforts to filter misinformation about vaccination. The latest effort, according to BuzzFeed News, comes from Instagram: A pop-up message will appear when users encounter anti-vaccination information on the app. The feature, BuzzFeed reports, is still in development, so we don't yet know what the pop-up will say, but it could be similar to measures the app has implemented for posts related to self-harm or suicide.

The Trump Administration's California Drilling Plans Move Forward

The Bureau of Land Management's Central Coast Field Office released new documents on Thursday regarding plans for oil and gas leasing and development on public lands the agency manages in 11 California counties. The new resource management plan offers several alternatives. Under the BLM's preferred option, "[f]ederal mineral estate would be open to leasing," with some exceptions for wilderness areas and other areas of environmental concern. This option, according to the plan, was selected "based on the administration's goal of strengthening energy independence and the BLM support of an all-of-the-above energy plan that includes oil and gas underlying America's public lands."

Multiple environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, are poised to protest the plans and potentially file a lawsuit. "We will use every tool at our disposal to push back against this reckless proposal and protect our public lands from fracking," Monica Embrey, a Sierra Club senior campaign representative, said in a statement, according to a Center for Biological Diversity press release.

Penguin and Seal Poop Encourages Biodiversity

In a week of distressing news about Earth's biodiversity, new research offers a small bright spot in an unexpected place: the excrement of penguins and elephant seals in Antarctica. According to a new report published this week in the journal Current Biology, the "nitrogen footprint" of these species is associated with higher levels of terrestrial biodiversity extending "well beyond their immediate colony borders along the Antarctic Peninsula." In other words, the nitrogen in penguins' waste provides helpful nutrients. "If you put more poo in the system, the Antarctic wildlife like that," Stef Bokhorst, the paper's lead author, told the New York Times.

In other good penguin news, the San Diego Zoo announced this week that two African penguin chicks—an endangered species that has seen a population decrease of more than 60 percent in the last three decades—have hatched. The chicks, named Barbara and Doug, are the first of their species to hatch at the zoo.