Facebook is again having to account for its role in 2016 election

Facebook’s first black eye was from “fake news.”

The social network’s secretive algorithm enabled hoaxes and lies to reach millions of people during the US presidential campaign in 2016.

Analysts were taken aback by the scope of the problem. Facebook vowed to make changes.

Then investigators found a pipeline of Russian propaganda. A so-called troll farm hijacked Facebook’s platform to sow chaos and, eventually, to try to tip the scale in Donald Trump’s direction.

Lawmakers were outraged. Facebook vowed to make changes.

Now the company is facing another embarrassing discovery. A joint investigation by The New York Times and the UK’s Observer newspaper found possible violations of Facebook policies by Cambridge Analytica, one of the Trump campaign’s data firms.

The violations relate to Facebook user data that was harvested by a professor’s research project and handed over to Cambridge.

On Friday night, after “downplaying” the papers’ findings, according to The Times, Facebook announced that Cambridge Analytica has been suspended from the site.

Facebook said it asked that Cambridge Analytica destroy the data in 2015.

Once again, Facebook is vowing to do better.

But the latest round of stories may embolden politicians and other critics who want to see the company subjected to stricter regulation.

To date most of those calls have come from Democrats, not from the Republicans who wield the most power in Washington.

Robby Mook, who was Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, tweeted on Saturday, “Facebook should own up to how they created a serious strategic imbalance — and, for the sake of both parties and all candidates, make sure this won’t happen again.”

It’s unclear how much political energy is really centered on these issues, however.

James Fallows of The Atlantic wrote on Saturday, “In a normal political environment” Cambridge Analytica and Facebook “would be called in for public questioning.” He added: “Of course, in normal environment, this wouldn’t have occurred.”

For its part, Cambridge Analytica said in a statement that the data set revealed by The Times was not used “as part of the services it provided to the Donald Trump 2016 presidential campaign.”

But some experts have doubts about that. The new investigation reiterates how much happens in Facebook’s dark corners.

The bottom line: It’s 2018, and we’re still talking about how the sprawling social network was used and abused during the 2016 election.

Facebook and its rivals are pledging to be responsible players in the 2018 midterms and future elections both in the United States and around the world.

Facebook, for instance, says it applied lessons from the US election to combat misinformation during campaigns in Europe in 2017.

The company’s chief security officer, Alex Stamos, addressed the issue Saturday in a series of tweets.

“There are a lot of big problems that the big tech companies need to be better at fixing. We have collectively been too optimistic about what we build and our impact on the world. Believe it or not, a lot of the people at these companies, from the interns to the CEOs, agree,” he said.

But the challenges are incredibly complex. New kinds of misinformation emerge all the time, and new ways to manipulate the algorithm are a constant threat. It’s like a game of Whac-A-Mole with worldwide consequences.

Facebook executives are trying to be more proactive — perhaps in an effort to fend off regulation. The company’s representatives have been speaking at conferences and pledging to clean up some of the pollution on the site.

Some of the changes are visible: Facebook is working with third-party fact-checkers to rebut hoaxes and trying to stamp out bad actors like Russian propagandists.

But Alex Hardiman, Facebook’s head of news products, acknowledged at a SXSW event last week that “we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

And that was before the data revelations that involve an entirely different side of the social network.

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Pennsylvania GOP asks for investigation into special election

Pennsylvania’s Republican Party is asking for an investigation into Tuesday’s special election.

The party has asked the Pennsylvania secretary of state to look into “a number of irregularities” it says occurred during voting in the House race between Republican Rick Saccone and Democrat Conor Lamb.

Lamb has claimed victory in the race over Saccone, and holds a narrow lead of fewer than 700 votes. CNN has not projected a winner in the race.

In a letter, Pennsylvania GOP general counsel Joel Frank said there had been complaints of voting machines not being calibrated, voters not appearing on voter rolls, questions over website information on polling places, and notice of overseas and military voting.

A letter addressed to the US Department of Justice from Frank also requests the appointment of federal observers “to monitor” the May 15 primary “for practices that may infringe on the ability of all duly qualified Pennsylvania voters to cast their votes in accordance with the voting protections afforded under federal laws.”

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Republican Jeff Flake: ‘My party might not deserve to lead’

As Republicans face a potential Democratic wave in this year’s midterm elections, Republican Sen. Jeff Flake argued Thursday that his party “might not deserve to lead” given its support for President Donald Trump.

“If we are going to cloister ourselves in the alternative truth of an erratic leader, if we are going to refuse to live in a world that everyone else lives in … then my party might not deserve to lead,” the Arizona senator said in a speech at the National Press Club.

Flake argued that “as we are discovering … there is no damage like the damage that a president can do.” He repeated a call he’s been making for months to restore civility to politics during the Trump era, using lofty rhetoric to describe what he hopes will one day be a reckoning for American politics.

“If one voice can do such profound damage to our values and to our civic life,” he said, “then one voice can also repair the damage, one voice can call us to a higher idea of America, one voice can act as a beacon to help us find ourselves once again after this terrible fever breaks — and it will break.”

Flake, who was facing a tough re-election bid and decided not to run for a second term in the Senate, has become a fiercely outspoken critic of the President. He’s delivered major speeches on the Senate floor targeting Trump and wrote a book blasting his own party for enabling Trump’s success.

“Never has a party abandoned, fled its principles and deeply held beliefs so quickly as my party did in the face of the nativist juggernaut,” he said Thursday. “We have become strangers to ourselves.”

His biggest complaints against Trump involve the President’s attacks on the media, his track record of telling falsehoods and what Flake describes as dysfunctional leadership from the White House.

His stunning rebuke of a president from his own party has many speculating that Flake may launch a GOP primary challenge against Trump in 2020 — an idea further fueled by the fact that Flake will stop in New Hampshire on Friday. Flake has repeatedly said he’s not ruling out the idea of a presidential run, though it’s not in his current plans.

“Those who vote in Republican primaries are overwhelmingly supportive of the President,” he said Thursday. “I think that could turn and will turn and must turn. But that is the case right now. It would be a tough challenge for anyone to take, and I just hope someone does it.”

Trump has previously returned the fire. He told a small group of Republicans he was prepared to spend $10 million on defeating Flake in the primary, and he publicly offered support on Twitter for one of Flake’s GOP challengers last year when it appeared Flake would run for re-election. He’s also referred to the senator and former US congressman as “Flake(y)” and “unelectable” on Twitter.

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There’s no mandatory recount for Pennsylvania’s special election

A recount is not mandatory in Tuesday’s special election for Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District, according to Pennsylvania Secretary of State spokesperson Wanda Murren.

Despite the tight vote count, Murren said there was no recount requirement for this election because it’s a district race, not statewide.

Early Wednesday morning, there was still no clear-cut winner, as the vote margin remained neck and neck between Republican Rick Saccone and Democrat Conor Lamb with all votes counted except absentee ballots.

However, Murren noted that petitions for a recount are allowed. Those require three voters from each precinct, and they have five days after the county completes its computation to file the petition.

The race is to fill the seat of former Republican Rep. Tim Murphy, who resigned after allegedly urging a woman he was having an affair with to have an abortion. President Donald Trump comfortably won the red district in 2016.

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Dean Trantalis elected mayor of Fort Lauderdale

Voters in Fort Lauderdale elected the city’s first openly gay mayor Tuesday.

Dean Trantalis defeated Bruce Roberts in a runoff election to replace longtime Mayor Jack Seiler.

With all but one precinct reporting, Trantalis received more than 5,600 votes than Roberts.

Trantalis, 64, has been serving as a city commissioner since 2009 and is a longtime champion of equal rights.

Roberts, a former Fort Lauderdale police chief, is the current vice mayor. The 70-year-old was first elected commissioner in 2009 but is facing term limits.

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Gwen Graham and Philip Levine took to Twitter to congratulate Trantalis, as did U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida.

Congratulations Mayor-Elect Dean Trantalis!

As mayor, Dean will be a voice for the citizens of #FortLauderdale. I look forward to working with him from the Governor’s Office to strengthen South Florida’s infrastructure and implement smarter growth in our state. pic.twitter.com/zMUB76HDJe

— Gwen Graham (@GwenGraham) March 14, 2018

Congratulations to the new Mayor Dean Trantalis! The city of Fort Lauderdale couldn’t be in better hands! pic.twitter.com/CN9XVDjxnU

— Mayor Philip Levine (@MayorLevine) March 14, 2018

Congratulations to Dean Trantalis on making history in Ft. Lauderale tonight! Mayor-Elect Trantalis has a true passion for public service and fighting for civil rights. This is a massive victory for Broward County and the LGBT community nationwide.

— Debbie Wasserman Schultz (@DWStweets) March 14, 2018


In nearby Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Chris Vincent narrowly led Mark Brown in the race to replace Scot Sasser as mayor.

Vincent is a town commissioner who is facing term limits. A native of New York, the building contractor moved to Broward County in 1987.

Brown served as a town commissioner for nearly six years before resigning in December to run for mayor.

Sasser announced in October that he wouldn’t seek re-election.

Florida Keys

Voters in two Florida Keys cities were presented with ballot questions.

Key West voters were asked to determine whether they wanted to raise the maximum height for affordable workforce housing projects on College Road.

In Key Colony Beach, voters received two ballot questions related to the election process. The first asked voters if city commissioners should serve four-year terms instead of two-year terms.

The other asked voters whether they wanted a tie between two candidates to be decided by the city clerk instead of a runoff election.

Voter turnout for Tuesday’s election was slightly more than 16 percent. The low turnout could be attributed to residents who are still struggling to get their lives back in order after Hurricane Irma.
A Monroe County elections supervisor said three precincts still didn’t have working telephones.

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Get real-time municipal election results

Voters from six municipalities in Broward County and two in the Florida Keys headed to their polling locations Tuesday to cast their ballots.

Fort Lauderdale and Lauderdale-by-the-Sea voters were electing new mayors, while Pembroke Pines voters were choosing who would fill two commissioner seats.

Hallandale Beach voters were also deciding who would fill a vacant commissioner seat in their city.
Voters in Key West were asked to determine whether they wanted to raise the maximum height for affordable workforce housing projects on College Road.

In Key Colony Beach, voters received two ballot questions related to the election process. The first asked voters if city commissioners should serve four-year terms instead of two-year terms. The other asked voters whether they wanted a tie between two candidates to be decided by the city clerk instead of a runoff election.


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