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

Judge orders Eric Trump to testify in New York probe before election

Photo: Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images

A judge on Wednesday ordered Eric Trump to comply with a subpoena to testify before the presidential election in a New York probe into the Trump family business.

The state of play: New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) last month said her office had filed a lawsuit to compel the Trump Organization to comply with subpoenas related to an investigation into whether President Trump and his company improperly inflated the value of its assets on financial statements.

1 hour ago - Podcasts

Reid Hoffman and Mark Pincus on the rise of Silicon Valley SPACs

Silicon Valley venture capitalists are no longer content with investing in startups and then eventually handing them off. Instead, many are now forming SPACs, or blank-check acquisition companies, to ride tech unicorns into the public markets themselves.

Axios Re:Cap digs into this trend with the co-founders of a new tech SPAC called Reinvent Technology Partners: Reid Hoffman, a co-founder of LinkedIn and partner at Greylock, and Mark Pincus, the founder and former CEO of Zynga.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 2:30 p.m. ET: 31,717,955 — Total deaths: 973,014 Total recoveries: 21,795,005Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 2:30 p.m. ET: 6,913,046 — Total deaths: 201,319 — Total recoveries: 2,646,959 — Total tests: 96,612,436Map.
  3. Health: CDC director says over 90% of Americans have not yet been exposed to coronavirus — Supply shortages continue to plague testing.
  4. Politics: Fauci clashes with Rand Paul at COVID hearing: "You're not listening" — FDA chief vows agency will not accept political pressure on coronavirus vaccine.
  5. Vaccines: Johnson & Johnson begins large phase 3 trial — The FDA plans to toughen standards.
  6. Sports: Less travel is causing the NBA to see better basketball.

Get Axios AM in your inbox

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!