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!

Sign up for Axios Pro Rata

Dive into the world of dealmakers across VC, PE and M&A with Axios Pro Rata. Delivered daily to your inbox by Dan Primack and Kia Kokalitcheva.

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!

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!

Want a daily digest of the top Nashville news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Nashville newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Columbus news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Columbus newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Dallas news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Dallas newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Austin news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Austin newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Atlanta news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Atlanta newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Philadelphia news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Philadelphia newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Chicago news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Chicago newsletter.

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!

Want a daily digest of the top DC news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios DC newsletter.

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: Aïda Amer/Axios

Spooked by misinformation campaigns in the 2016 election, companies — concerned that coordinated attacks could drag their reputations through the mud — are hiring consultants to stave off politically motivated Twitter and Facebook mobs.

The catch: But their effort is rife with risks of its own, rooted in the hard-to-decipher difference between legitimate grassroots campaigns and online fraudsters who create the illusion of vast protest movements.

What's happening: Several young companies are pitching themselves to twitchy CEOs and nervous marketing departments, warning that their brands are vulnerable to coordinated social media blitzes that can ruin their standing and run down their stock value.

  • Austin-based New Knowledge has assembled big-name experts who they say can provide protection from such campaigns. It says it works with Fortune 100 companies, but won’t name them.
  • Morpheus Cyber Security, based in Israel, is gearing up to do the same.
  • Established companies like ZeroFOX, which monitors social media, are getting into the infant industry.

Who the enemy is: When a protest is legitimate, involving genuine concerns that have whipped up millions of people, that's a reputation problem requiring messaging. But these companies are also confronting what Robert Matney, communications director for New Knowledge, calls an asymmetry of passion: groups that deploy sneaky online tricks to appear fundamentally bigger and more important than they really are.

  • These campaigns "create a mirage of consensus which itself then becomes very persuasive to sincere, authentic citizens," Matney says. They do this by getting large groups of social media accounts — whether run by humans or bots — to amplify a message, creating the façade of a widespread movement.
  • It's as if you saw 100 demonstrations protesting the same thing in 100 cities — without realizing the protesters were the same at every event, says Morpheus co-founder Eran Reshef.
  • One answer is to get them kicked off the platform where they are positioned.

But, but, but: There's no line to separate genuine collective action from the "influence campaigns" that these companies promise to protect against.

Take, for example, the apparent outpouring of social media outrage directed at Nike after its support of Colin Kaepernick, the NFL quarterback who, in 2016, knelt during the national anthem, which briefly affected the company's stock.

  • In a just-published report on the topic, Morpheus describes a network of politically motivated actors tweeting from a cue card provided by a shadowy group named “The New Movement.” Their actions, Morpheus suggests, moved the needle of public sentiment by mimicking a unified voice of dissent.
  • When I called the number listed on The New Movement's website, I spoke with a man who identified himself as Tony Valenzuela from Tucson, Arizona, who said he and two other volunteers started the group out of frustration with advertisers that were pulling their money from conservative media giants like Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity.
  • He said he has legitimate followers and that his goal is to hit back against left-leaning groups like Sleeping Giants, which encourages people to publicly shame advertisers into pulling their banners from Breitbart News.

It’s not clear who is right about the anti-Nike protest — whether it was a manipulative influence campaign or a grassroots marshaling of conservative grievances.

So where is the line between authentic political organizing and illegitimate campaigns? Morpheus and New Knowledge say transparency is the essential differentiator.

  • “It’s something akin to the way that traditionally in the media we insist that advertising declare itself as advertising,” Matney says. “That’s not what’s happening here.”
  • “When there is an intentional difference between how a post would be perceived by a layman glancing at it and how an expert analyzing it using sophisticated tools would perceive it — then it is a part of an influence operation,” says Reshef.
  • Both said they would never get in the way of a real social movement.

What’s next: Increasingly sophisticated tools mean that more influence campaigns targeting companies are probably just around the corner, making the need to cull the genuine from the fake more pressing.

Go deeper

Right-wingers making McCarthy sweat for future Speaker post

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stands with his Republican colleagues outside the House on Nov. 17. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Right-wing elements in the Republican Party are complicating House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's attempts to become the next speaker of the House should the GOP take back the majority in 2022.

Why it matters: While McCarthy has worked carefully to build trust among the conservatives who tanked his chances at clinching the speakership in 2015, they're still circling ahead of the next Speaker vote in January 2023.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Congress sprints to meet crush of deadlines

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Congressional leaders have been pushing off vital action for months — and a lot of it will catch up with them in December, which begins Wednesday.

Driving the news: Funding for the federal government is set to expire at midnight on Friday. There are also consequential deadlines related to the debt limit, President Biden's agenda and annual actions like voting on the National Defense Authorization Act.

3 hours ago - World

U.S. fears Iran won’t scale back to 2015 nuclear deal

Officials gather in Vienna on Sept. 29 for the first day of renewed nuclear talks with Iran. Photo: EU Vienna Delegation/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

U.S. officials have extremely low expectations as world powers resume negotiations with Iran to curb its nuclear program, believing the Iranians aren't yet ready to negotiate seriously, Axios is told.

Driving the news: Senior officials in the U.S. intelligence community have assessed the new Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, thinks of his predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, as a weak accommodationist who negotiated a bad deal with the U.S. and other world powers in 2015.