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!

Stay on top of the latest market trends

Subscribe to Axios Markets for the latest market trends and economic insights. Sign up for free.

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!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Bad actors are hijacking journalist names, photos and bylines to help give credibility to fake storylines or hoaxes on the internet.

Why it matters: Even when platforms try to police this type of content, memes and fake stories often still circulate indefinitely, making it hard for victims to fully recover from the hoax.

Driving the news: Joe Gould, a Congress and Industry reporter for Defense News, tells Axios about how his identity was hacked to fuel a right-wing meme conspiracy that the incoming Defense Secretary planned to outsource U.S. defense systems to China.

  • Gould received more than five dozen emails last weekend asking him if a meme that featured an article with his byline on Telegram was really written by him. It wasn't.
"My credibility as a journalist was hijacked."
— Gould

Gould later found that the meme was rapidly spreading on bigger platforms like Facebook. Frantically, he started to search for the meme using key words noted in the fake article and to contact people who posted it to try to get them to take it down.

  • Many were distraught that they had been duped and grateful to Joe for reaching out. "People were thanking me for good journalism," Gould said. "People out there just want the truth."
  • Eventually, Defense News’ lawyers contacted Facebook. The tech giant did try to take the memes down, but many are still floating around the platform. Some are labeled and others are not.

The big picture: These types of identity hacks have become more common in recent years. As tech companies get better at detecting fake accounts, bad actors have to hijack real identities to give disinformation legitimacy and to avoid detection.

  • A New York Post reporter had his identity hijacked last month. It was used to tweet out pro-Iranian regime propaganda from a fake Twitter handle, per The Daily Beast.
  • Twitter suspended the account, which tweeted a mix of the reporter's real articles on Iran with the propaganda to better disguise the malpractice.

Between the lines: Gould tells Axios that it's been nearly impossible to get the meme wiped off the internet, especially as it continues to pick up steam on less visible channels like Telegram, where the virality seemed to take off.

  • The origin of the meme is still unknown. But the theme that the Biden administration is secretly helping to aid China is a theme that's tied to fringe-right misinformation circles during the election.

Be smart: The democratization of the web means that any bad actor has the power to completely shift a narrative, or wreck a person's reputation, with a single meme.

  • The vulnerability of big internet platforms to be weaponized to spread such falsehoods, after they are typically seeded on less visible channels, is a problem that Silicon Valley hasn't fully figured out. But platforms like Facebook are trying to get ahead of it by asking journalists to register for additional account protections.

The trend also represents a misguided fear around things like deep fakes. Situations like these support data that shows that the vast majority of misinformation and disinformation don't involve manipulated media, but rather, manipulated context.

The bottom line: Anyone with perceived institutional expertise is a target, especially journalists and commentators, or even academics and researchers.

  • "We weren't ready for it," says Gould. "We probably need to take a step back and ask 'How do we handle this if it happens again?"

Go deeper: Election influence operations target journalists

Go deeper

Mike Allen, author of AM
4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden adviser Cedric Richmond sees first-term progress on reparations

Illustration: "Axios on HBO"

White House senior adviser Cedric Richmond told "Axios on HBO" that it's "doable" for President Biden to make first-term progress on breaking down barriers for people of color, while Congress studies reparations for slavery.

Why it matters: Biden said on the campaign trail that he supports creation of a commission to study and develop proposals for reparations — direct payments for African-Americans.

Cyber CEO: Next war will hit regular Americans online

Any future real-world conflict between the United States and an adversary like China or Russia will have direct impacts on regular Americans because of the risk of cyber attack, Kevin Mandia, CEO of cybersecurity company FireEye, tells "Axios on HBO."

What they're saying: "The next conflict where the gloves come off in cyber, the American citizen will be dragged into it, whether they want to be or not. Period."

Cedric Richmond: We won't wait on GOP for "insufficient" stimulus

Top Biden adviser Cedric Richmond told "Axios on HBO" the White House believes it has bipartisan support for a stimulus bill outside the Beltway.

  • "If our choice is to wait and go bipartisan with an insufficient package, we are not going to do that."

The big picture: The bill will likely undergo an overhaul in the Senate after House Democrats narrowly passed a stimulus bill this weekend, reports Axios' Kadia Goba.