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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

Pundits react to a chaotic debate: “What a dark event we just witnessed”

The first presidential debate between President Trump and Joe Biden in Cleveland on Tuesday night was a shouting match, punctuated by interruptions and hallmarked by name-calling.

Why it matters: If Trump aimed to make the debate as chaotic as possible with a torrent of disruptions, he succeeded. Pundits struggled to make sense of what they saw, and it's tough to imagine that the American people were able to either.

Trump to far-right Proud Boys: "Stand back and stand by"

Asked to condemn white supremacist violence at the first presidential debate on Tuesday, President Trump said the far-right Proud Boys group should "stand back and stand by," before immediately arguing that violence in the U.S. "is not a right-wing problem. This is a left-wing problem."

Why it matters: Trump has repeatedly been accused of failing to condemn white nationalism and right-wing violence, despite the FBI's assessment that it's the most significant domestic terrorism threat that the country faces. The president has frequently associated antifa and the left-wing violence that has afflicted some U.S. cities with Biden, despite his condemnation of violent protests.

Mike Allen, author of AM
2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

The first Trump v. Biden presidential debate was a hot mess

Photos: Jim Watson and Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

This debate was like the country: Everybody’s talking. Nobody’s listening. Nothing is learned. It’s a mess.

  • We were told President Trump would be savage. Turned out, that was a gross understatement. Even the moderator, Fox News' Chris Wallace, got bulldozed.

Why it matters: Honestly, who the hell knows?