How Russians use social media to divide Americans - Axios
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How Russians use social media to divide Americans

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Congressional investigations and media reports are shedding light on ways Russians use social media to cause division and chaos in the U.S.

Why it matters: The revelation that Russian actors meddled in the 2016 election through Facebook ads have led to intense scrutiny into how social media was leveraged to sow chaos and create divisions among Americans. As congressional investigations ramp up and details leak out, a clearer picture is emerging of the tactics used to interfere with American democracy.

  • Impersonating identities: The Daily Beast reports that Kremlin trolls stole the identity of United Muslims of America (a real organization), and then used that alias Facebook page to buy ads aimed at a Muslim audience in order to promote political rallies and spread misinformation.
  • Amplifying division with bots: Senate intelligence committee member James Lankford said during a hearing that Russian internet trolls were using social media to divide U.S. citizens over the controversy surrounding players kneeling in protest during NFL games.

Tactics:

  • Use false identities, accounts or user names that closely mimic or copy real personas. Daily Beast reported that Russians used fake accounts to set up political events. Russian actors have also used real identities of scholars to spread misinformation through fake think tanks and fake research.
  • Use advertising to build audiences on Facebook pages or groups that can further spread misinformation or cause division.
  • Create fake news articles and publish them organically on social media, like Facebook and Twitter.
  • Use bots to amplify divisive speech and to sow confusion.
  • Capitalize on existing political divisions: The Washington Post reported earlier this week that Russian Facebook ads touched on Black Lives Matter and religion-related rifts. Politico also reported this week that Russian-funded Facebook ads supported Jill Stein, Sen. Bernie Sanders and President Trump during the election.

Pressure is mounting in Washington for tech companies to provide more information regarding potential malicious use of their platforms by foreign actors. Twitter will brief Senate Intelligence Committee staff on Capitol Hill Thursday. Facebook said it would hand over to Congress the ads Russians purchased during the election.

Senate committee members have requested that Alphabet, Facebook and Twitter appear before Congress on November 1, and House committee members have requested their presence the following month, per Bloomberg.

The ripple effect: The heightened awareness around Russia-linked efforts has led to calls for investigations into unrelated potential misinformation campaigns. House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith sent letters to the CEOs of Facebook, Alphabet and Twitter asking for information on Russian entities buying anti-fracking ads. Smith argued there's evidence of Russia trying to protect its oil-and-gas sector by spreading sentiment against fracking — the energy extraction technique that has enabled the U.S. oil and natural gas surge.

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Trump awards Medal of Honor to Vietnam veteran

President Trump awarded Vietnam veteran Gary M. Rose with the Medal of Honor. Photo: White House live stream

President Trump awarded retired Army Capt. Gary Michael "Mike" Rose the Congressional Medal of Honor on Monday for his heroism in the Vietnam War.

"Today we have a room full of people and a nation who thank God that you lived," Trump said after recounting Rose's narrow escape after days tending to the wounded behind enemy lines. "Your devotion to your country inspires us all."

Watch the ceremony

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The allegations against Harvey Weinstein and their fallout

The number of women coming forward with assault allegations against Weinstein is growing. Photo: Richard Shotwell / Invision via AP

The list of women accusing Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault and harassment continues to grow. The Los Angeles Police Department said it is looking into a 2013 sexual assault claim against Weinstein, and the AP reported that New York's attorney general has opened a civil rights investigation of the Weinstein Company.

Weinstein's response, from spokesperson Sallie Hofmeister: "Any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein. Mr. Weinstein has further confirmed that there were never any acts of retaliation against any women for refusing his advances. Mr. Weinstein obviously can't speak to anonymous allegations, but with respect to any women who have made allegations on the record, Mr. Weinstein believes that all of these relationships were consensual..."

The timeline

  • Oct. 5: The New York Times publishes an investigation detailing numerous on-the-record claims of harassment against Weinstein and at least 8 settlements between Weinstein and his accusers.
  • Oct. 6: The Weinstein Company places Weinstein on indefinite leave. Several Democratic senators announce that they are giving the financial contributions they received from Weinstein to charity.
  • Oct. 7: Lisa Bloom, a civil rights attorney known for defending women in high profile harassment cases, resigns as Weinstein's advisor. She initially received criticism for choosing to defend him.
  • Oct. 8: The Weinstein Company fires Weinstein "in light of new information about misconduct ... that has emerged in the past few days."
  • Oct. 9: The Hollywood Reporter publishes the full text of an email Weinstein wrote to several media executives before he was fired, in which he pleads with them to write letters of support.
  • Oct. 10: The New Yorker publishes a 10-month-long investigation in which 3 women accuse Weinstein of rape. Hillary Clinton and former President Obama come out with statements against the producer. The University of Southern California announces it is rejecting a $5 million donation from Weinstein to its film school. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Weinstein Company is in the process of changing its name as a rebranding move.
  • Oct. 14: In an emergency session, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Oscars' governing body, votes overwhelmingly to expel Weinstein.
  • Oct. 15: Woody Allen, who has been accused of molesting his daughter Dylan Farrow and whose son Ronan Farrow wrote the New Yorker piece about Weinstein, says he feels "sad" for Weinstein. Allen draws criticism for saying. "You also don't want it to lead to a witch hunt atmosphere, a Salem atmosphere, where every guy in an office who winks at a woman is suddenly having to call a lawyer to defend himself." He later clarifies his comments and says he meant to call Weinstein a "sad, sick man."
  • Oct. 15: French President Emmanuel Macron withdraws the Legion of Honor, the nation's highest civilian and military award, from Weinstein.
  • Oct. 16: The Clinton Foundation says it will not return the donations — up to $250,000 — from Weinstein because the money has already been spent on projects, Fox News reports.
  • Oct. 16: The Weinstein Company, sinking from the scandal, says it will receive a rescue investment from Colony Capital, a private investment firm led by Trump confidant Tom Barrack.
  • Oct. 19: The Los Angeles Police Department tweeted that it has interviewed a potential sexual assault victim in a 2013 incident involving Weinstein.
  • Oct. 23: New York's attorney general opens a civil rights investigation into the Weinstein Company, asking for records of harassment complaints.

The allegations

The claims of rape, laid out in more detail in the New Yorker article:

  • Lucia Stoller, now Lucia Evans, was trying to make it as an actress in 2004, the summer before her senior year of college, when Weinstein approached her in a New York club. He began calling her late at night, but she wanted to meet in the daytime. She eventually met with him at his office where they discussed roles. Then, Evans said, Weinstein forced her to perform oral sex on him.
  • Asia Argento, a film actress and director, said Weinstein forcibly performed oral sex on her in 1997. Argento said she didn't speak out until now for fear Weinstein would "crush" her.
  • The New Yorker reports a third woman accused Weinstein of raping her, although her story was not detailed and she was not named.

The on-the-record claims of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the New Yorker:

  • In an NYPD audio recording of a 2015 sting operation, Weinstein admits to groping Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, a model. The day prior, Gutierrez told the NYPD Weinstein had lunged at her, touched her breasts, and tried putting a hand up her skirt. "A source close to the matter" said Gutierrez signed a nondisclosure agreement with Weinstein, including an affidavit stating the acts Weinstein admits to in the recording never happened.
  • Mira Sorvino, an actress who starred in several of Weinstein's films, said Weinstein massaged her shoulders and tried to get more physical in 1995. He later called and told her he was coming over to her apartment, although he eventually left.
  • Emily Nestor, who served as a temporary front-desk assistant at the Weinstein Company, said on her first day two employees told her she was Weinstein's "type" physically and said Weinstein sexually harassed her. She served out her temporary role and left.
  • Weinstein brought Emma DeCaunes, a French actress, to his hotel room, went into the bathroom, and returned naked with an erection and told her to lie down on the bed, DeCaunes said. She refused and left.
  • Rosanna Arquette, an actress, was to pick up a script from Weinstein's hotel room, but said when she arrived he was wearing a bathrobe and pulled her hand towards his visible and erect penis. He allegedly said he needed a massage. She said she wouldn't do that and left.
  • Jessica Barth, an actress, said Weinstein invited her to a meeting at a hotel and invited her to his room, where she said he alternated between talking about roles and demanding a naked massage. She refused and left.
The on-the-record claims of unwanted sexual advances in the NYT:
  • Gwyneth Paltrow told the NYT Weinstein placed his hands on her and asked her to come up to his hotel room for a massage after meeting with her when she was 22 before she began shooting "Emma." "I was expected to keep the secret," she said. Paltrow later told Brad Pitt, her boyfriend at the time, about the experience, and Pitt told Weinstein to never touch Paltrow again.
  • Angelina Jolie said Weinstein made unwanted advances on her in a hotel room before the release of "Playing by Heart" in the late 1990s. Jolie said as a result she "chose never to work with him again and warn others when they did."
  • Judith Godrèche, a French actress, recounted similar unwanted advances to the NYT.
  • Katherine Kendall, who appeared in the film "Swingers," said Weinstein once undressed and chased her around a living room.
  • Weinstein invited Tomi-Ann Roberts, hopeful to start an acting career in 1984, to his hotel to discuss a film. When she arrived he was naked in the bathtub and suggested she get naked in front of him. She wouldn't do it and left.
  • Dawn Dunning, who was doing some small acting gigs in 2003, met Weinstein at a nightclub where she was waitressing, and they set up a meeting together. Under the guise of a meeting running late, she was invited up to his suite. When she arrived Weinsten was allegedly in a bathrobe and said she could only work on his films if she had three-way sex with him. According to Dunning's account, he said, "This is how the business works."
Additional claims of sexual harassment and rape:
  • Cara Delevingne detailed an encounter with Weinstein, during which he allegedly asked her to kiss another woman in front of him and tried to kiss her himself, in an Instagram post Wednesday.
  • Zoe Brock, an actress and model, wrote a Medium post accusing Weinstein of asking for a naked massage in a hotel room and chasing her when she refused to comply.
  • Samantha Panagrosso, a model, told Variety that, when she met him at the Cannes Film Festival in 2003, Weinstein groped her in a pool and then followed her into her room, where he allegedly pushed her onto a bed and tried to grope her.
  • Lysette Anthony, a British actress, filed a police report in London alleging that Weinstein raped her in her home in 1992, per CNN. She is the latest woman to come forward with accusations.
  • Lupita Nyong'o wrote an NYT op-ed about an encounter she had with Harvey Weinstein as a student at the Yale Drama School during which he allegedly coerced her into giving him a massage.

Inside the company

16 current and former executives and assistants at Weinstein's company said they witnessed or knew about unwanted sexual advances in the workplace or at events associated with the company's films. Each of the 16 said his behavior was known widely throughout Miramax and the Weinstein Company.

Suspicions of retaliation: Four actresses, including Mira Sorvino and Rosanna Arquette, said they think that after rejecting Weinstein's advances or complained to the company, Weinstein removed them from projects or dissuaded people from working with them, per The New Yorker. They pointed out Gutierrez's experience, where after she went to the police, negative stories about her sexual history appeared in New York gossip pages. As noted above, Weinstein denies those claims.

Go deeper

NYT's Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey: "Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades"

New Yorker's Ronan Farrow: "From Aggressive Overtures to Sexual Assault: Harvey Weinstein's Accusers Tell Their Stories"

Featured

​​California's wildfires, by the numbers

A neighborhood leveled by wildfires in Santa Rosa, California. Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP

California authorities have raised the total number of homes and buildings destroyed to 8,400 — up from 5,700 last week — as damage assessments from the deadly wildfires continue.

The big picture: Firefighters say the blazes will be fully contained by Wednesday, about two weeks after they started burning, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reports. But the process of rebuilding entire neighborhoods in Sonoma County will extend long beyond that.

The numbers:

  • The total death count has risen to 42. A single Sonoma County fire — the Tubbs — killed 22 people, which makes it the third deadliest in state history, NBC reports.
  • The Tubbs fire alone destroyed 5,300 homes — more than any other California fire in history.
  • In total, 8,700 structures and 271,000 acres have burned.
  • At the peak of the fires, classes were canceled for 260,000 students at 600 schools, per KQED.
  • Insured damages from the fires will top $1 billion, and that figure is expected to rise.
Featured

China’s pollution is getting in the way of its solar energy goals

Illustration: Egan Jimenez / Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs

Although China is increasing its solar energy supply, air pollution is blocking sunlight and reducing energy output in China, according to a study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study is the first to calculate how much aerosols in the atmosphere are reducing China's solar energy generating efficiency.

Why it matters: China has set a goal of meeting 10% of the country's electricity needs with solar by 2030, and this shows a potentially intractable obstacle to meeting that milestone. On the flip side, it could encourage countries with emerging solar power to cut emissions or refocus solar panel efforts to more sparsely populated or remote areas, where pollution is less severe.

Magnitude of the problem:

  • The study shows that in the northern and eastern parts of the country, which are the most polluted, aerosol pollution is reducing solar electricity generation potential by as much as 35% per day. (Burning fossil fuels increases aerosol concentrations in the atmosphere.)
  • In the winter, when pollution is worst, air pollution in the area is blocking about 20% of sunlight from reaching solar panel arrays.

What's next: The researchers are looking to analyze other regions, including India also which suffers greatly from air pollution.

The study measured irradiance from the sun and analyzed aerosol components and clouds in the atmosphere using a solar photovoltaic performance model and NASA satellite data. They ran 9 separate analyses from 2003 to 2014 over all of China.

Featured

Dems aren't negotiating with the White House on health care

No one is currently engaging with the White House on its health care demands. Photo: Evan Vucci/AP

The Trump administration listed its demands for the Senate's health care bill over the weekend, but that doesn't appear to have reopened negotiations in the Senate — at least among the bill's existing supporters. As it stands, the bill has enough votes to pass the upper chamber.

Sound smart: This is a result of President Trump flip-flopping on the issue so often that members of his own party use it as the punchline of a joke.

"I'm not aware of any Dems negotiating with the White House. We have a bill that has the votes to pass the Senate. A bill that his administration was involved in negotiating. Time to get it done," a senior Senate Democratic aide told me.

Yes, but: The bill, negotiated by Sens. Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray, is most likely in a holding pattern until December, when it could get attached to a must-pass spending bill. In that case, negotiations would get more serious closer to the end of the year.

  • "At some point there will be a negotiation between" Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Trump, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Speaker Paul Ryan, a senior GOP aide told me. "Just because it isn't happening now doesn't mean it won't be happening when it's needed."
  • Murray is still pushing for a quicker timeline. "I certainly hope the Majority Leader will listen to the members on both sides of the aisle who want to see this bill move forward and bring it up for a vote as quickly as possible," she said in a statement.
Featured

Singapore has gone "beyond" UN to pressure North Korea

Trump with Singaporean PM Lee. Photo: Evan Vucci / AP

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore said Monday "pressure" as well as "dialogue" between the U.S. and China are critical in handling the North Korean nuclear threat. President Trump commended Singapore for partnering with the U.S. to combat the threat, and Lee said his country has gone "beyond" the UN Security Council's resolutions to do so.

Trump also said Singapore Airlines signed a $13.8 billion deal with Boeing which will create 70,000 jobs in the U.S.

  • On North Korea: U.S. and Singapore share "an unwavering commitment" to combating the threat, Trump said.
  • On Lee's father, the former PM: Singapore made "rapid development from a poor island nation to an economic powerhouse under [Lee's] great father."
  • On U.S.-Singapore relations: The relationship is at its "highest point and it will continue," Trump said. Lee underscored that Singapore is the second-biggest Asian investor in the U.S.
Worth noting: The president did not take questions after the joint conference, though reporters asked about the Niger ambush and Trump's tweet about gold star widow Myeshia Johnson.
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Megyn Kelly refutes Bill O'Reilly's harassment denials

Megyn Kelly poses on the set of her new show "Megyn Kelly Today." Photo: Charles Sykes / Invision / AP

Megyn Kelly spoke out against her former Fox News colleague Bill O'Reilly on NBC News' Megyn Kelly Today this morning, stating, "O'Reilly's suggestion that no one ever complained about his behavior is false. I know because I complained."

The background: Kelly's assertion comes on the heels of O'Reilly's repeated denials of sexual misconduct during his time at Fox News. A NYT report was published over the weekend detailing his $32 million settlement agreement with a former Fox News analyst over a harassment claim.

More from Kelly: She also shared an email that she wrote to the co-presidents of Fox News in November 2016 after O'Reilly said in a CBS interview that "wasn't interested" in her discussion of Fox News' toxic professional climate in her memoir: "Perhaps he didn't realize the kind of message his criticism sends to young women across this country about how men continue to view the issue of speaking out about sexual harassment."

How O'Reilly responded to the latest report: Emily Steel and Michael S. Schmidt, the New York Times reporters who broke the story about O'Reilly's massive settlement agreement, shared some of their on-the-record interview tapes with O'Reilly with the NYT's The Daily podcast.

In O'Reilly's own words:

  • "We have physical proof that this is bullshit. Bullshit. Okay? So it's on you if you want to destroy my children further."
  • "This is crap. And you know it. It's politically and financially motivated. And we can prove it with shocking information."
  • "Leaks are not facts. Leaks are designed to hurt people, and surely you both know that."
  • "I've never had one complaint filed against me by a co-worker in any Human Resources department."

O'Reilly also went on the record with his former Fox News colleague Glenn Beck this morning and repeated a similar defense while arguing that there is a larger conspiracy meant to end his career, per Media Matters for America:

  • "The end game is, 'Let's link Bill O'Reilly with Harvey Weinstein.'"
  • "[T]hey don't care because this was a hit job to get me out of the market place. And then you'll have the left go, oh, he's paranoid, oh, yeah, yeah. OK. I could back that up 50 different ways. Media Matters is involved. CNN is involved. And it's beyond any doubt."

O'Reilly posted a statement on his website with a sworn affidavit from his accuser that he claims refutes the reports. He has promised to address the allegations further tonight on No Spin News, his nightly podcast.

Her full email:

"Perhaps he didn't know that I specifically discussed with Rupert Murdoch whether I should include a chapter on Ailes, and that Rupert (and Lachlan, and Robert Thompson) all told me that I needed to... Perhaps he didn't realize the kind of message his criticism sends to young women across this country about how men continue to view the issue of speaking out about sexual harassment... Perhaps he didn't realize that his exact attitude of shaming women into shutting the hell up about harassment — on grounds that "it will disgrace the company" is in part how Fox News got into the decade-long Ailes mess to begin with... Perhaps it's his own history of harassment of women which has, as you both know, resulted in payouts to more than one woman, including recently, that blinded him to the folly of saying anything other than 'I am just so sorry for the women of this company who never should have had to go through that.'... Whatever the reason, you've got a hell of a guy hosting that 8pm hour... I'll be on the same CBS show tomorrow. I have no doubt they'll ask me about Bill's comments.
Featured

Lack of affordable housing killing jobs in Bay Area

A view of the San Francisco skyline from Alamo Square. Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP

The Bay Area saw its worst month for local employment since February 2010, losing 4,700 jobs in September, per Mercury News.

The backdrop: Employers in the Bay Area are finding it hard to fill positions due to limited housing and sky-high prices. Workers who can't find or afford housing close to their offices are pushed out of the area, and many of them don't want to bother with long commutes. "Housing is the chain on the dog that is chasing a squirrel," economist Christopher Thornberg told Mercury News. "Once that chain runs out, it yanks the dog back."

Go deeper: The national jobs picture for September

Featured

Norway's electric car boom

Data: U.S. Energy Information Administration; Chart: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Norway has, far and away, the largest percentage of cars that are electric compared to other nations, according to a new report released Monday by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The reason: The Norwegian government offers the largest monetary incentives for plug-in electric cars, per the report: "These incentives reduce the purchase price and the operational costs associated with PEV ownership and include an exemption from an acquisition tax ($11,600 savings) for both battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs)."

Why it matters: The trend toward electric cars is picking up speed all over the world, including in the biggest economies like China. Norway, whose wealthy government and economy has been built on oil production, offers an example of what factors drive adoption of electric cars.

Go deeper: The report, titled "Plug-in electric vehicles: future market conditions and adoption rates" is worth a read, or at least a scan.

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Trump meets with Singapore's Prime Minister at the White House

President Donald Trump greets Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as he arrives at the White House. Photo: Andrew Harnik / AP

President Trump met with Lee Hsien Loong, the Prime Minister of Singapore, at the White House Monday where they spoke of the strength of U.S.-Singapore relations.

What's next: The leaders will participate in a bilateral working luncheon with Cabinet Secretaries and key White House officials later this afternoon, before making a joint statement in the Rose Garden.