Google has found Russian ads related to 2016 election

Google has identified tens of thousands of dollars in ad buys by Russian accounts that used YouTube or Google advertising to try to spread misinformation and sow discord in American politics, sources familiar with the company’s investigation told CNN.

These accounts used YouTube, Google search advertising, Gmail advertising and Google’s DoubleClick ad platform to push divisive campaigns based on issues ranging from race to immigration to gun rights at times leading up to the 2016 election.

Google has not identified how many of the accounts and ads are associated with the Internet Research Agency, the Kremlin-linked troll farm that bought ads on Facebook and Twitter. 

The company had previously said it had found no evidence of this kind of activity.

It is possible that many of the accounts are not tied to the IRA, and that the scope of Russian meddling extends beyond what Facebook and Twitter have identified so far.

Google also has two different sets of policies for dealing with who can create accounts and who can buy advertising, making it harder for the company to police accounts that simply created YouTube pages without paying money to advertise or have those pages promoted.

In a statement, Google spokesperson Andrea Faville said the company has “a set of strict ads policies including limits on political ad targeting and prohibitions on targeting based on race and religion.”

“We are taking a deeper look to investigate attempts to abuse our systems, working with researchers and other companies, and will provide assistance to ongoing inquiries,” Faville said.

The Washington Post was the first to report Google’s discovery.

Like Facebook and Twitter, Google and its parent company Alphabet have agreed to testify at public hearings before the Senate and House Intelligence Committees on November 1, sources at all three companies told CNN. Google will also meet privately with the Senate and House Intelligence Committees prior to next month’s public hearing, a source at the company confirmed.

Facebook, which identified 470 accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency, has shared its findings with both Twitter and Google, sources at all three companies said. Using that data, Twitter found roughly 200 accounts linked to the IRA.

Google is the largest seller of advertising online, with more than 40% revenue share for digital advertising in the United States. YouTube, which Google owns, is the largest online video service in the world.

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Oxford study: Fake news rife on Twitter during election week

Fake election news wasn’t just for Facebook feeds. Twitter had its share as well.

“Polarizing and conspiratorial junk news” was as prevalent on Twitter as news from legitimate outlets in the days immediately before and after the US presidential election, a new study out of the University of Oxford released Thursday suggests.

Researchers from the university’s Computational Propaganda Project examined more than 7 million tweets sent between November 1-11, 2016, which contained hashtags related to politics and the election. The study has yet to be peer reviewed and the team acknowledged limitations to its methodology.

They split content into categories including professional news, professional political content — like that from a candidate’s campaign — and “polarizing and conspiracy content” which included objectively fake news websites, Russian sources of political news and WikiLeaks. Oxford researchers said the categories were not intended to be comprehensive.

They found that “polarizing and conspiracy” sources accounted for 20% of links shared. Links from professionally produced news organizations also accounted for 20% of links shared. Links from professionally produced political material accounted for 10%. Other political content, including activist blogs and political satire, made up the remaining 50%

Researchers assigned each tweet a location based on Twitter users’ biographical information. This allowed them to estimate how fake and polarizing content was shared across individual states — what they call the “junk news index.” The researchers acknowledged that volunteered location information could be misleading in some cases.

The study found that in 11 of the 16 swing states, as identified by the National Constitution Center, junk news was shared at a rate above the national average.

“We found that in the swing states there was a higher concentration of this highly polarizing content,” Samantha Bradshaw, a researcher who worked on the study, told CNN

“So many people today use these platforms today to obtain political news and information about politics that shape their political identities and impact their voting behavior,” Bradshaw added.

Speaking on CNN’s New Day, CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd noted that the higher concentration of polarizing content shared in swing states may be a result of ordinary people in those states being more engaged in political debate because they knew the race would be close where they lived.

The findings do not necessarily show that the fake news helped to shift the election. The rate of sharing of fake news in several states that proved pivotal to the outcome — Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania — was not higher than in other swing states, for instance.

The study focused on tweets that used certain election-related hashtags sent from accounts that included geographic information. Researchers did not say which hashtags were used.

Twitter, for its part, has said it doesn’t police fake news.

In a blog post on “bots and misinformation” in June, Colin Crowell, the vice-president of public policy at Twitter said the networks “cannot distinguish whether every single Tweet from every person is truthful or not,” and they did not view themselves as being the arbiters of truth.

“Journalists, experts and engaged citizens Tweet side-by-side correcting and challenging public discourse in seconds,” Crowell wrote. “These vital interactions happen on Twitter every day, and we’re working to ensure we are surfacing the highest quality and most relevant content and context first.”

Crowell also warned that research conducted by third party groups about the spread of misinformation on the platform could be flawed as groups did not have access to the full capabilities of the Twitter database.

The findings were released just hours before Twitter officials were scheduled to meet with congressional investigators about how Russian-linked accounts may have used the social media platform to spread misinformation.

The Oxford report concluded, “junk news, characterized by ideological extremism, misinformation and the intention to persuade readers to respect or hate a candidate or policy based on emotional appeals, was just as, if not more, prevalent than the amount of information produced by professional news organizations.”

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Roy Moore rides a horse to the polls

Some have compared elections to horse races — and Alabama Senate Republican primary candidate Roy Moore is literally galloping to the finish line of his runoff campaign.

The GOP candidate and his wife arrived to their polling place in Gallant, Alabama, Tuesday on horseback. Moore, sporting a cowboy hat and boots, rode a horse named Sassy, while his wife Kayla arrived on a horse named Sundance, according to Getty.

Moore faces off against Sen. Luther Strange in the special election for Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ former seat in the US Senate. Strange currently holds the seat after being appointed by then-Gov. Robert Bentley to finish out Sessions’ term; he has the backing of President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Moore is seen as the anti-establishment candidate and has been a lightning rod for controversy. He was removed from his state Supreme Court job twice and has a long history of making highly contentious comments about race and sexual orientation. In 2015, he shared a video promoting the conspiracy theory that former President Barack Obama is a Muslim.

Moore has been endorsed by former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

According to the Belleville News-Democrat, Moore says it is a tradition for him to ride a horse to vote.

If elected, he wouldn’t be the only politician to enjoy horseback riding. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke rode a horse to his first day of work at the agency in March. Vice President Mike Pence enjoyed a horseback ride in Rock Creek Park with Sen. Roy Blunt and Medicare Administrator Seema Verma in July.

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Why German elections matter to rest of world

We’ve had our fair share of dramatic elections recently – the UK, France, the U.S. And let’s not forget Brexit. The German election on Sept. 24 may be generating fewer headlines, but it’s no less important.

Here’s why you should pay attention.

Why should you care?

If you’re in the US:

Germany is one of America’s staunchest allies. But German Chancellor Angela Merkel is NOT a fan of U.S. President Donald Trump (remember the tense no-handshake during her White House visit?). And it seems like her main challenger, Martin Schulz, likes Trump even less, and he’s not shy about ripping into the American President. So it seems, no matter who wins this election, U.S.-German relations are likely to be strained.

If you’re in Europe:

To borrow a phrase, Germany’s the big man on campus. It has the biggest and strongest economy in the European Union. It’s widely seen, along with France, as a driver of EU policy and a powerful player in the Brexit negotiations. Speaking of which, both Merkel and Schulz (a former EU President) seem inclined to take more of a hard line with the UK over its impending exit from the trade bloc.

If you’re anywhere else:

Observers of politics everywhere want to see if populist passions will reignite. They burned bright last year in the Brexit vote and the U.S. presidential election, but have dimmed in 2017 with the loss of far-right candidates in France and the Netherlands.

The parties led by Merkel or Schulz aren’t populist movements by any stretch, but concerns over refugees and security could help propel the far-right AfD (Alternative for Germany) into parliament for the first time. And just like in France’s presidential election earlier this year, anyone in a war-torn country in the Mideast or Africa looking to Germany as a place of refuge might wonder what kind of welcome they’ll get there in the future.

How does this work?

Germans will be voting to fill seats in the Bundestag, the country’s 598-seat parliament. Whichever party wins the most seats will try to form a coalition government, and the leader of that party will then become chancellor (equivalent to the U.S. president).

OK, now stay with us, because from here it gets really complicated.

German voters will cast two votes on election day. On the first vote they will choose from a list of local candidates to represent their district. The candidate who gets the most votes in each district wins a seat in Parliament. Half of the Bundestag’s seats (299) are decided this way. For their second vote, they choose from a list of the political parties. The remaining 299 seats are then distributed among the parties based on the percentage of votes received nationwide. Only parties that get more than 5% of the vote nationally can send representatives to the Parliament.

What’s the point of this convoluted system? It allows voters to split their vote between parties. They can vote for a local candidate from one party and cast their second vote for a different party.

Merkel’s party, the center-right Christian Democratic Union, and its sister party the Christian Social Union, currently have 309 seats in the Bundestag. They’ve spent the past four years in coalition with the center-left Social Democratic Party, which has 193 seats.

Who could be chancellor?

Angela Merkel

Who she is: Merkel, of course, is the current chancellor of Germany, an office she’s held since 2005. She’s the country’s first female leader, and she’s pretty popular right now (her approval rating stands at about 59% in one recent poll). If the 62-year-old Merkel wins, it’ll be her fourth term in the post. And if she were to serve a full term, she would tie with Helmut Kohl as Germany’s longest serving post-war chancellor (16 years). In her time in office, there have been three U.S. presidents, four UK prime ministers and four French presidents. For those who aren’t fans of current U.S. President Donald Trump, she’s now thought to be the most powerful person in the world.

What she wants: Merkel has a fairly liberal policy on refugees. She’s a big fan of the global economy. She wants to give Germans tax cuts (especially young families). She wants to lower unemployment, which would be a neat trick, since unemployment in the booming German economy is already at or near record lows. She also wants to hire thousands of new police officers at both the state and federal level.

Fun fact: She worked as a physicist before getting into politics.

Telling quote: “The times when we could completely rely on others are, to an extent, over.” (The “others” Merkel is referring to is the United States.)

Martin Schulz

Who he is: Schulz, 61, is a former president of the European Union (and, surprise, no fan of Brexit), and he’s relatively new to leadership in the center-left Social Democratic party. He was picked to lead his party back in January. He was elected mayor of his hometown of Wurselen in 1987 at age 31, but he’s spent more of his political life dealing with EU matters in Brussels than he has holding office in Germany.

What he wants: Schulz, dubbed by some as the German Bernie Sanders, wants to raise taxes on the rich and give tax relief to middle-income earners. He wants Germany to use some of its budget surplus for investments in infrastructure and to help boost the EU. He wants the U.S. to get its nukes out of Germany.

Fun fact: He dreamed of becoming a professional soccer player (a serious knee injury shattered that dream), and he once owned a bookstore.

Telling quote: “You have the choice between a chancellor who avoids every debate about the future and somebody who tells you what he wants.”

What are the big issues?

Immigration:

This is the big one. It’s been the top concern of German voters since 2015, when over one million migrants and refugees arrived. Merkel’s popularity took a drubbing during that time, but it’s rebounded. That’s a shock to many of her critics, including the far-right AfD party, which has capitalized on concern among some Germans by promising to clamp down on immigration. Issues such as family reunification, deportations and integration as well as border controls and a possible cap on asylum seekers (both Merkel and Schulz are against that) continue to make headlines.

Climate change:

Environmental issues always play a big role in German elections, but with Donald Trump pulling the US out of the Paris agreement, the topic is an especially hot one this time around. And despite Merkel’s impassioned fight for the environment, Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions haven’t dropped much for close to a decade.

Social inequality:

Germany is a prosperous country with a good welfare system, but it still has some issues. Yes, unemployment hit its lowest point since reunification this year, but the poverty rate is way up too. In fact, the poverty rate is breaking new records in Germany, even as GDP continues to grow. Schulz has put inequality at the center of his campaign.

Security and terrorism:

Germany’s suffered a number of terror attacks the past couple of years — including a horrific truck attack on a Christmas market in Berlin that killed 12 people back in December — so security remains another high-ranking concern. Both Merkel and Schulz have promised to strengthen Germany’s security forces and hire more police.

So who’s going to win?

Merkel and her party seem poised to cruise to victory. Her Christian Democrats are consistently polling at 35 to 40%, while Schulz’s Social Democrats are at 20 to 25%. Germans seem to prefer the stability that Merkel’s run as chancellor has provided — especially with the rise of populist movements in other European countries and the increase in terrorism incidents on the continent. As one political commentator put it, Germans aren’t looking for a political revolution, so they probably won’t take the risk.

What happens afterward?

There’s the fun and games of coalition building. You see, to form a government a political party has to win more than 50% of the seats in parliament. This is highly unlikely, since there are 42 parties (42!) fielding candidates in this election. So the party that ends up with the most seats (and that, most likely, will be Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union) will negotiate with others to form the government. Those negotiations start on September 25.

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