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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.
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.
Who the enemy is: When a protest is legitimate, involving genuine concerns that have whipped up millions, 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.
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 quarterback who, in 2016, knelt during the national anthem, which briefly affected the company's stock.
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.
FDR and Churchill, 1941. Photo: Print Collector/Getty
Again and again, President Trump has laid body punches into America's foremost allies, calling them deadbeats and threatening to withdraw from NATO, the military alliance that for 7 decades has helped prevent a new great power war.
"The Atlantic alliance as we know it is dead," write Philip Gordon and Jeremy Shapiro, both former officials in the Obama State Department, this week in Foreign Affairs.
What would change under a Democratic administration, Gordon said: It would not question the legitimacy of the alliance. But Derek Chollet, executive vice president at the German Marshall Fund, said President Obama, too, drubbed European allies for a failure to meet the NATO spending floor of 2% of GDP on defense, and griped about "free riders" on the U.S. dime abroad.
Assembly line. Photo: Getty
Seven years ago, Ford made a $5 billion bet on the massive Chinese market. Today, amid an all-out trade war, that strategy is faltering.
Erica writes: The rise of ride-sharing apps as well as the popularity of China's homegrown automakers are strangling demand for American cars. The once-booming overseas factories of Ford and its peers have slowed down to a sluggish pace.
Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty
Someone made an AI company that lets you DeepFake your voice to sound like former President Obama — in real time.
Erica writes: Modulate.ai, a Massachusetts company, manipulates the properties of your voice as you speak, reports MIT Tech Review. The result? You can have a long phone conversation with your mom as Barack Obama.