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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

An investigation by fact-checking company Snopes finds that a series of seemingly innocuous local websites, which have popped up all over the country, are being run by GOP consultants whose businesses are funded in part by candidates the websites cover.

Why it matters: The consultants setting up these websites, first reported last year by Politico, are expanding their efforts to more battleground states in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election.

  • They claim that the sites are funded by ads. But the Snopes investigation found that the websites are often supported by wealthy benefactors.

Details: Michael Patrick Leahy, a Tea Party-connected conservative activist that is tied to one of the sites, Tennessee Star, wrote in an email to Snopes: "We are in business to make a profit, and have a number of advertisers to prove it."

  • But Snopes found that Tennessee Star runs ads from political groups such as the Koch-founded Americans for Prosperity and local GOP fundraisers.

The big picture: It's difficult to draw a line between political activism and journalism in the digital era, in part because activists have gotten so good at using technology to blur lines by creating news outlets that look impartial. 

  • Earlier reports have uncovered many of these efforts, and there isn't much framework in place to stop them from spreading.
  • While Congress has invested countless hours grilling tech companies about foreign meddling, far less attention has been paid to these types of misinformation efforts. 

Go deeper: The rise of the pro-Trump media machine

Go deeper

18 mins ago - Technology
Column / Tech Agenda

The new digital extortion

Shoshana Gordon/Axios

If you run a hospital, a bank, a utility or a city, chances are you'll be hit with a ransomware attack. Given the choice between losing your precious data or paying up, chances are you'll pay.

Why it matters: Paying the hackers is the clear short-term answer for most organizations hit with these devastating attacks, but it's a long-term societal disaster, encouraging hackers to continue their lucrative extortion schemes.

47 mins ago - Health

CDC mask guidance sparks confusion, questions

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The CDC's surprise guidance last week freeing the fully vaccinated to go maskless sowed plenty of concerns across the country— even earning the "Saturday Night Live" treatment for all the questions it spurred.

Why it matters: With plenty of Americans still unvaccinated — and without any good way to confirm who has been vaccinated — some experts worry this could put many at increased risk.

Updated 3 hours ago - World

In photos: Israel-Hamas aerial bombardments enter second week

A ball of fire and a plume of smoke rise above buildings in Gaza City as Israeli forces shell the Palestinian enclave, early on May 17. Photo: Mahmud Hams/AFP via Getty Images

Israel and Hamas continued aerial bombardments into Monday morning, as fighting entered a second week.

Why it matters: The worst violence in the region since 2014 has resulted in the deaths of 197 people in Gaza, ruled by Hamas, and 10 in Israel. 58 Palestinian children and two Israeli children are among those killed since the aerial exchanges began on May 10, Reuters notes.