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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Russian efforts to sow discord ahead of the 2020 elections appear focused on fear-mongering around health care issues.

Why it matters: Misinformation online can have real-world health and safety repercussions.

Driving the news: Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that RT, the Russia-backed television network based in the U.S., has been peddling unverified stories claiming that 5G wireless technology can be linked to cancer, autism, Alzheimer's and other health problems.

  • "Hundreds of blogs and websites appear to be picking up the network’s 5G alarms, seldom if ever noting the Russian origins," the Times notes. "Analysts call it a treacherous fog."

Earlier this year, the CDC attributed a rise in measles outbreaks to misinformation that fueled anti-vaccination sentiments.

  • A study from George Washington University professor David Broniatowski and his colleagues in October found that Russian trolls using sophisticated Twitter bot accounts were attempting to fuel the anti-vaccination debate by posting about the phenomenon — from both sides — at a far greater pace than the average user.
  • Their efforts, Broniatowski notes, mimic misinformation tactics that Russian trolls have used in the past — supercharging the online discourse in America around one issue by inflating polarizing viewpoints about it from both sides.

Be smart: The most effective misinformation often plays into preconceived notions or fears that already exist in society, especially around health, safety and well-being.

  • Part of the recent backlash against big technology companies is over concerns that they will prioritize innovation and commercialization over public safety.

The bottom line: Health issues are particularly susceptible to manipulation, given that it's still unclear what directly impacts and cures many conditions, including cancer.

Go deeper: 2020 misinformation campaigns take aim at the latest spook issues

Go deeper

Dems' immigration plan hits major roadblock

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Senate parliamentarian ruled Sunday that Democrats cannot include pathways to citizenship in the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package, per a copy of the ruling obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: It's a blow to Democrats who hoped to provide pathways for millions of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. Using reconciliations would have allowed them to pass politically contentious immigration changes with only 50 votes, as opposed to the usual 60 required.

FBI says human remains found in Wyoming likely Gabby Petito

Gabby Petito. Photo: FBI

Human remains found in Teton County, Wyoming, are "consistent with the description of" missing 22-year-old Gabby Petito, said FBI Denver official Charles Jones at a news conference Sunday.

Details: The cause of death had yet to be determined, but Jones said: "Full forensic identification has not been completed to confirm 100% that we found Gabby, but her family has been notified of this discovery." Authorities said they're continuing the search for her fiancé, Brian Laundrie.

6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Beto not even best Dem against Abbott

Beto O'Rourke speaks at a rally at the Texas State Capitol in June. Photo: Sergio Flores/Getty Images

Actor Matthew McConaughey’s nine-point lead in a theoretical matchup against Greg Abbott shows just how vulnerable the hard-right Texas governor could be in a general election.

Why it matters: Abbott has won conservative accolades for his abortion, mask and vaccine bans. Axios reported Sunday that former Rep. Beto O’Rourke is preparing to announce a gubernatorial challenge — but a recent poll shows he’s not even the most popular Democrat in the state.