Stuff YOU Should Know

Posted by on Sep 14, 2017 in Stuff You Should Know

Facebook, Twitter, and Russian Hackers

Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner is leading the Senate’s investigation into Russia’s attack on the 2016 presidential election. Senator Warner has long believed that Russians used Facebook and Twitter to influence Americans during the election. It turns out that he was right.

On Wednesday, Facebook admitted that it sold $100,000 in ads to accounts linked to Russia. According to a Facebook statement, 470 accounts likely linked to Russia bought about 3,000 Facebook ads between June 2015 and May 2017. (Facebook has since shut those accounts down.) The ads targeted controversial issues such as LGBTQ+ rights, racial issues, immigration, and gun rights. The goal was to further divide Americans in the days leading up to the election. Meanwhile, automated Twitter bots sent out anti-Clinton tweets to thousands of accounts. Sometimes, the Facebook and Twitter accounts sending out the messages were ones which had once belonged to real Americans who had stopped using them for one reason or another. All of this makes it exceedingly difficult to separate fake accounts from real ones.

Senator Warner has asked the Senate Intelligence Committee to meet with representatives of the top social media platforms to make sure that the same thing won’t happen with future elections. While Facebook is making attempts to heighten security–deleting up to a million accounts a day–Twitter, which doesn’t require users to supply their real name, has expressed that it doesn’t believe that its job is to determine which tweets are truthful and which are not.

What Do You Think? Roughly 44 percent of adults use Facebook as their primary news source. Based on what you’ve read in this article and heard on the news, why is it risky to do this?

Big Ben Falls Silent

Big Ben, the iconic London clock, will be silent until 2021.

The bell was silenced back in August, when workers began an extensive renovation and repair project that will take four years and cost roughly $37 million to complete. The 158-year-old clock was last renovated over thirty years ago. This time, workers will have to take the clock apart piece by piece, install a new lift, and repair or replace each of the tower’s roof slabs.

Big Ben at Dusk

Big Ben at Dusk
Credit: Glen Allison/Photodisc/Getty Images

The bell, which weighs 13.7 tons and is over seven feet tall, had to be shut off during the repair process so that it won’t damage workers’ hearing. But this decision immediately set off widespread controversy. Londoners argued that the bell has never been silent this long, not even during World War II when London was under attack. Furthermore, they are concerned that the decision to silence the bell will damage the city’s tourism industry: many tourists come to London expecting to see (and hear) the clock, but as many as three of its faces might be covered at any time by scaffolding.

Last week, Prime Minister Theresa May got involved in the argument, saying that although she valued workers’ safety, she didn’t agree with keeping the bell silent for four years. She said that the House of Commons Commission will take another look at the plans to see if the renovations can be completed more quickly.

During the renovation, Big Ben will still chime for special events such as New Year’s Eve and Remembrance Sunday.

Dig Deeper Using internet resources, briefly research the history of Big Ben. Why do you think Londoners are so upset by its long silence?

Bipartisan Trump

At a time when people seem more divided than ever about politics, President Trump surprised the nation twice last week by working with Democratic legislators.

First, he joined with Democrat Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Leader, in raising the debt ceiling. The debt ceiling is always a controversial issue in Congress. Most Republicans want to lower the national debt, not raise it. However, as Democrats point out, the debt ceiling needs to be raised to keep the government functioning and to keep government programs funded. Last week, Congress voted to raise the debt ceiling in order to have enough money to pay for relief efforts in Texas and Florida following the double-hit of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Surprisingly, President Trump agreed to this.

Second, Trumpp spoke with Democrat Nancy Pelosi, the House Minority Leader, about the current status of the Dreamers, or young immigrants who were brought to this country illegally while still children. The White House recently decided to end the program that offered the Dreamers protection from deportation, unless Congress can come up with a new law protecting them in the next six months. Trump agreed with Pelosi that the new law needs to come more quickly than that, if possible. Pelosi then pointed out that the Dreamers need some reassurance that they will not be deported while the program is on hold for the next six months. Trump responded by tweeting that Dreamers will not be targeted or deported while Congress works out the new legislation.

Many people across the country cheered Trump’s bipartisan efforts. However, some Republican legislators were angered by it, and many Democrats were quick to point out that siding twice with Democrats does not make Trump a bipartisan president.

What Do You Think? Why is bipartisanship important in Congress? Do you think a president should try to find a middle ground, or follow the line of his or her political party?

Mexico’s Deadly Earthquake

Last Thursday, while most Americans were busy focusing on the Hurricane Harvey relief effort in Texas and preparing for Hurricane Irma to hit Florida, Mexico suffered its worst earthquake in a century.

The 8.1-magnitude quake occurred off the coast but did the most damage in southern Mexico, near the border with Guatemala. At least 90 people have been reported killed by the quake. Juchitan was the hardest hit, with over a third of its homes now uninhabitable. In Oaxaca and Chiapas, thousands of homes were destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of people were left without water. Schools and hospitals closed down, and patients were moved outside, where hospital staffers attended to them using only the lights from their cell phones. The quake was felt as far away as Mexico City, where earthquake sirens sent terrified residents running out into the street in their pajamas, and even across the border into Guatemala, where one additional person was killed.

Since the quake, authorities have reported nearly 800 aftershocks. Nearly sixty of those have had a magnitude of 4.5 or greater. As a result, many people are still sleeping outside for safety. Several tsunami warnings were issued for coastal areas, but so far tsunamis have not been a problem.

Dig Deeper Use a map and internet resources to identify the location of the earthquake and the three places mentioned in this article: Juchitan, Oaxaca, and Chiapas. Now identify Mexico City on the map. Based on what you’ve found, how far (in miles) did the earthquake reach?