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Expand chart
Data: Storyful; Note: Chart uses a log scale to compare values across a wide range; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

The alt-right communities that circulated millions of political memes and conspiracy theories last election cycle are working behind the scenes to test new messages and memes that will resonate on big platforms ahead of 2020.

Why it matters: Most of the conversations happening on Gab, 4chan and 8chan involve finding themes or messages to bolster the Trump candidacy or to sow divisions among Democrats, according to a new research from social media and news intelligence agency Storyful.

There's one strange exception: Longshot Democratic candidate Andrew Yang has also emerged as a popular subject among fringe conservatives, mainly because of his universal basic income platform that he's created in response to the threat of automation on the workforce and jobs.

  • Storyful journalist and analyst Kelly Jones says these actors at first embraced Yang, thanks to support he has garnered from far-right influencers.
  • But quickly, the counter-culture meme community is beginning to turn against him, according to Buzzfeed reporter Ryan Broderick,

The big picture: Jones notes that a possible reason is that fringe right communities try to elevate or highlight Democrats with no shot in an attempt to splinter the Democratic Party, and make it harder for one candidate to emerge strong enough to take on Trump.

Be smart: Similar tactics were used during the 2018 midterms. Jones notes that the popular hashtag #nomenmidterms was used in memes that were made to look like they came from Democrats, while they actually came from 4chan in an effort to sow division in the party.

What's next? "We're going to see a lot of references like that leading up to 2020," says Jones. "Fringe campaigns to manipulate the popularity of certain Democrats over others will increase, especially now while there are so many Democratic candidates in the field." Jones cites the down-ranking of Elizabeth Warren's YouTube videos as an example of this.

Go deeper: Andrew Yang wants the support of the pro-Trump internet. Now it's threatening to devour him, by Buzzfeed reporter Ryan Broderick.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to remove Richard Spencer and Joe Rogan as examples of far-right influencers.

Go deeper

45 mins ago - World

Putin foe Navalny to be detained for 30 days after returning to Moscow

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny. Photo: Oleg Nikishin/Epsilon/Getty Images

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny has been ordered to remain in pre-trial detention for 30 days, following his arrest upon returning to Russia on Sunday for the first time since a failed assassination attempt last year.

Why it matters: The detention of Navalny, an anti-corruption activist and the most prominent domestic critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has already set off a chorus of condemnations from leaders in Europe and the U.S.

Biden picks Warren allies to lead SEC, CFPB

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden has selected FTC commissioner Rohit Chopra to be the next director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and Obama-era Wall Street regulator Gary Gensler to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Why it matters: Both picks are progressive allies of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and viewed as likely to take aggressive steps to regulate big business.

The perils of organizing underground

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Researchers see one bright spot as far-right extremists turn to private and encrypted online platforms: Friction.

Between the lines: For fringe organizers, those platforms may provide more security than open social networks, but they make it harder to recruit new members.