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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Politicians on the left and right are manipulating the news to bolster their election efforts with fake headlines, websites and articles.

Why it matters: Media manipulation has always been a part of the political playbook, but technology has enabled politicians to take the practice a step further by changing or mimicking real stories and news outlets to mislead voters.

The latest on the left: New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez has set up a website called HealthNewsNJ.com that at first glance looks like an upstart health website, but is actually backed by the senator's campaign, per STAT.

  • The headline article reads, "How greedy drug company CEO Bob Hugin gouged cancer patients and enabled Donald Trump." Hugin is running against Menendez for Senate.

On the right, fake news websites backed by political candidates and groups have been popping up all over the country.

  • In February, Arizona Senate candidate Kelli Ward touted an endorsement from a fake-news site to voters, per Politico. The endorsement came from a site that is part of a string of fake news websites backed by Republicans, built to look and sound like real news websites.
  • Last fall, the Republican Governors Association launched the "Free Telegraph," a website filled with articles that look like real journalism, but only provide one-sided support for Republicans. The RGA didn't disclose its affiliation with the site until the group was asked about it after the site launched.

Manipulating headlines of real stories on social media is another way politicians are using fake news to mislead voters.

  • Last year, the staff of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan altered the headline on a news story posted to his Facebook page in a way that falsely implied that one of the governor's policy priorities was gaining more support than it was, per The Baltimore Sun.
  • A similar incident happened during the 2016 election in Virginia, when the staff of Republican Virginia gubernatorial candidate Corey Stewart altered the Facebook headline of a Washington Post article about his opponent's stance on whether to remove a statue of confederate General Robert E. Lee.
  • Facebook has since disabled the ability for users to manipulate headlines of news stories on its platform.

Be smart: Politicians are harnessing internet stories and websites to mislead voters because users are less discerning over what is real and fake online.

  • “The major new challenge in reporting news is the new shape of truth,” says Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired magazine, in Pew's latest report on misinformation online. “Truth is no longer dictated by authorities, but is networked by peers. For every fact there is a counterfact and all these counterfacts and facts look identical online, which is confusing to most people.”

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Virginia attorney general fires Jan. 6 investigator from university post

McIntire Amphitheater at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia. Photo: Robert Knopes/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The lead investigator for the Jan. 6 House select committee investigating the Capitol riot has been fired from his position as the University of Virginia's counsel by the state's new Republican attorney general, per the Washington Post.

Why it matters: Democrats say the removal of Tim Heaphy from his post after some three years while he's on leave from the university to investigate the insurrection is likely "retribution" for the House probe — an accusation strongly denied by the office of state Attorney General Jason Miyares (R).

5 hours ago - World

Taiwan's military scrambles jets after detecting 39 Chinese warplanes

J-20 stealth fighter jets in Zhuhai in the Guangdong Province of China last year. Photo: Chen Jimin/China News Service via Getty Images

Taiwan's defense force said 39 Chinese warplanes flew into its Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) on Sunday.

Why it matters: The largest Chinese air force incursion into the zone since October came a day after the U.S. and Japanese navies conducted a joint exercise in the Philippine Sea.

6 hours ago - Sports

Gonzaga University revokes NBA great John Stockton's tickets over mask stance

Former Utah Jazz player John Stockton during a 2017 press conference in Salt Lake City. Photo: Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Gonzaga University suspended the season tickets of notable alumni John Stockton after the NBA Hall of Famer failed to comply with the school's basketball games mask mandate, the Spokesman-Review first reported.

Driving the news: "Basically, it came down to, they were asking me to wear a mask to the games and being a public figure, someone a little bit more visible, I stuck out in the crowd a little bit," the former Utah Jazz point guard told the outlet in an interview Saturday.