SAN FRANCISCO: Facebook said today that it had blocked some 30 accounts on its platform and 85 accounts on photo-sharing social network Instagram over concerns they may be linked to foreign entities and aimed at interfering in US midterm elections.
The announcement came shortly after US law enforcement and intelligence agencies said they had no indication of efforts to disrupt election infrastructure but that Americans should be wary of Russian attempts to spread fake news. A study published last week found that misinformation on social media was spreading at a greater rate than during the run-up to the 2016 presidential vote, which Russia is accused of manipulating through a vast propaganda campaign in favor of Donald Trump, the eventual winner.
“On Sunday evening, US law enforcement contacted us about an online activity that they recently discovered and which they believe may be linked to foreign entities,” Facebook said in a blog post. “Our very early-stage investigation has so far identified around 30 Facebook accounts and 85 Instagram accounts that may be engaged in the coordinated inauthentic behavior.
“We immediately blocked these accounts and are now investigating them in more detail.” It added all the Facebook pages associated with the accounts appeared to be in French or Russian languages. The Instagram accounts were mostly in English, with some “focused on celebrities, others political debate.” “Typically, we would be further along with our analysis before announcing anything publicly. But given that we are only one day away from important elections in the US, we wanted to let people know about the action we’ve taken and the facts as we know them today,” Facebook added.
Despite an aggressive crackdown by social media firms, so-called “junk news” is spreading at a greater rate than in 2016 on social media ahead of the US midterm elections, Oxford Internet Institute researchers said in a study published Thursday. Twitter said Saturday it deleted a “series of accounts” that attempted to share disinformation without giving a number.
Relevant piece: U.S. social media network Facebook Inc. Monday removed 30 accounts from its namesake platform and 85 Instagram accounts for possible links to “foreign entities.”
Nathaniel Gleicher, head of Cybersecurity Policy at Facebook, said U.S. law enforcement agencies notified Facebook Sunday evening about suspected online activities by those accounts with possible connections to foreign actors.
“We immediately blocked these accounts and are now investigating them in more detail,” Gleicher announced Facebook’s measures in an “Election Update” post, which came less than 12 hours before polls open for the U.S. midterm elections on Tuesday.
Gleicher said almost all the Facebook Pages associated with these accounts appear to be in the French or Russian languages, while those on Instagram seem to have mostly been English, with some focused on celebrities and others on political debates.
Instagram is a photo and video-sharing social networking service owned by Facebook.
“Once we know more — including whether these accounts are linked to the Russia-based Internet Research Agency or other foreign entities — we will update this post,” he added.
Facebook said its probe of the activities is still at a very early stage, and it was unclear who was behind those attempts or how long those accounts have existed.
The Menlo Park, a California-based social media network, disclosed on Oct. 26 that it had pulled 82 Pages, Groups and accounts linked to Iran to crack down on online “bad actors.”
With less than one day away from Tuesday’s polling, social media companies are on high alert for foreign interference.
Major internet players such as Google, Apple, and Twitter all have stepped up the fight against online disinformation efforts, with hundreds of fake accounts purged from their platforms.
Livestock: Smart ear tag developed in Australia!
CANBERRA: Australia’s peak scientific agency has developed a tool to help farmers track the fitness and location of their livestock.
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) joined forces with agriculture technology startup Ceres Tag to develop the ear tag, which delivers data similar to that provided by a smartwatch.
By using accelerometers, the tags can send out signals warning of unusual patterns that could indicate an animal is either sick or giving birth.
Farmers will also be able to use the devices to track their herds and their grazing patterns, potentially saving them thousands of dollars in manual tracking costs.
The ear tag is designed to survive for the entire lifespan of an animal.
“Ceres Tag gives greater transparency over grazing management, allowing farmers to locate and monitor their animals, to reduce risk and operating costs and to improve efficiency and assist with traceability,” Ceres Tag’s chief executive David Smith said in a media release on Tuesday.
“The ear tag is GPS-enabled, allowing farmers to track the location of individual animals remotely, via the Internet of Things (IoT) capability,” David said.
The ear tag has been successfully trialed on 100 cattle at a CSIRO research station. It will be exhibited at Meat and Livestock Australia’s Red Meat 2018 event in Canberra on Nov. 22 and 23, as well as the Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture in Brisbane the following week.
WW II-era fighter plane crash kills 2 in Texas
WASHINGTON: A World War II-era fighter plane crashed on Saturday into a Texas parking lot, killing a veteran and one other person, local media and officials said.
The US National Transportation Safety Board said it was investigating the crash of “a North American P-51D” in the city of Fredericksburg.
The P-51 Mustang served in the Pacific and other theaters of World War II, as well as during the Korean War. Fredericksburg is home to the National Museum of the Pacific War, which said on Twitter that there were two victims, one of whom was a veteran.
“At this time we have no further information,” the museum tweeted. According to the museum website, an outdoor show about the “equipment and weapons” used in the Pacific theater, including a battle re-enactment, was to take place Saturday.
Attempts to reach the museum for further comment were not immediately successful. Pictures from the San Antonio Express-News showed the wreckage of the silver plane in a parking lot, where vehicles appeared damaged.
Super-Earth discovered orbiting Sun’s nearest star
PARIS: A “super-Earth” has been discovered orbiting the closest single star to our Sun, scientists said Wednesday in a breakthrough that could shine a light on Earth’s nearest planetary neighbors.
Astronomers studied Barnard’s Star, a red dwarf just six light years away – practically in our back garden, galactically speaking — and noticed the presence of a “frozen, dimly lit world” at least 3.2 times heavier than Earth.
The planet, known for now as Barnard’s Star b, is the second nearest to Earth outside the solar system and orbits its host star once every 233 days.
“It’s important because it’s really our next door neighbor and we like to meet our neighbors in general,” Ignasi Ribas, from the Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia and Spain’s Institute of Space Sciences, told AFP.
Despite being relatively close to its parent star, the planet receives less than two percent of the energy Earth gets from the Sun, and the team estimates it has a surface temperature of -170 degrees Celsius (-274 Fahrenheit) – far too cold to support life as we know it.
“It’s definitely not in the habitable zone, no liquid water. If it has any water or gas this is probably in solid form so that’s why we call it frozen,” said Ribas.
In mankind’s bid to map the planets in the night sky, most historical research has focused on brighter, newer stars, which produce more light and increase the chances of scientists noticing anything orbiting them.
But since Barnard’s Star is a red dwarf, a small and cooling star probably about twice as old as the Sun, it produces relatively little light making it hard to discern any bodies in its orbit.
To find Barnard’s Star b, Ribas and the team studied more than 20 years’ worth of observations from seven separate instruments.
They then used a phenomenon known as the Doppler effect to track the impact of its gravitational pull on its parent star.
Astronomers can use this technique to measure a planet’s velocity and, therefore, mass.
“We have all worked very hard on this breakthrough,” said Guillem Anglada Escude, from London’s Queen Mary University, who co-authored the study published in the journal Nature.
The team worked with the European Southern Observatory using astronomical instruments so accurate they can detect changes in a star’s velocity as small as 3.5 kilometers (2.2 miles) per hour — a gentle walking pace.
It’s thought that Barnard’s Star is tearing through space at around 500,000 km/h, making it the fastest-moving known object in the universe.
Ribas said that although stargazers could predict its size and orbit with relative accuracy using the Doppler effect, any attempt at this stage to find out what the new planet looked like would be “guesswork”.
“It’s sort of in a fuzzy area with respect to its properties. We’ve seen planets of this mass be rocky, meaning that it could look like Earth with a solid surface with potentially some atmosphere or some frozen layer on top,” he said.
“Or it may be what we call a mini-Neptune, like a scaled-down version of the gas giants of our solar system.”
It might be cold, inhospitable and all but invisible but the new planet has one thing going for it: it’s really close.
The only known exoplanet closer to Earth was discovered in 2016 orbiting one of a cluster of stars in the Alpha Centauri system, just over four light-years away.
“There’s not so many stars in our immediate neighborhood. The investment to find them is expensive,” said Ribas.
“It’s really near and therefore if you have the hope – like I do – of eventually seeing these planets to study them in detail we have to start with the immediate ones. It could lead potentially to other discoveries.”