Late Monday, Facebook pushed back against rumors that its platform was exploited by Russian operatives trying to influence last year's Brexit vote. The company told BuzzFeed News in a delicate statement that it had not seen "significant coordination" between Russia-linked accounts, whether with "ad buys or political misinformation targeting Brexit voters." The denial came just hours before British Prime Minister Theresa May accused Russia of meddling in elections and "planting fake stories."
Damian Collins, the head of the U.K. House of Commons' digital media and culture committee, has written to Facebook, Twitter, and Google asking for information in regards to Russian-linked accounts that may have spread misinformation or propaganda about Brexit. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has yet to respond to Collins' inquiry, and the company offered only Monday's statement.
Days after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Zuckerberg said the idea that fake news on Facebook affected the election was "pretty crazy," adding that it was not empathetic to assume "that the only reason someone could have voted the way they did is because they saw fake news." Zuckerberg has since had to walk back that statement, after it came out last month that 126 million users — about 40 percent of the U.S. population — were exposed to fake news on Facebook during the 2016 election.
Additionally, Twitter has faced its own Russia allegations: Last Friday, Wired published "a small snapshot" of cached Twitter posts from 29 different Russian-linked accounts in 2016 that spread provocative pro- and anti-Brexit propaganda to more than 260,000 people. Kelly O'Meara Morales
Koko, the western lowland gorilla who was taught sign language by Dr. Francine Patterson in the early 1970s, died this week in her sleep at the age of 46, the Gorilla Foundation said Thursday.
Koko famously appeared on the 1978 cover of National Geographic in a photo she took of herself in a mirror. Koko "revealed the depth and strength of a gorilla's emotional life," NPR writes, mourning her adopted kitten, Ball, when it was hit by a car in 1984. "Cat, cry, have-sorry, Koko-love," Koko had signed to Patterson in response to the question "What happened to Ball?" She reportedly knew some 1,000 signs, and 2,000 words of spoken English, the New York Post reports.
The Gorilla Foundation wrote that Koko's "impact has been profound and what she has taught us about the emotional capacity of gorillas and their cognitive abilities will continue to shape the world." Learn more about Koko in the documentary below. Jeva Lange
A food-ordering scandal is rocking Israel, and has resulted in charges against the prime minister's wife
The wife of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Sara Netanyahu, has been charged with fraud and breach of public trust as part of a food-ordering scandal, The Jerusalem Post reports. The charges stem from a scheme that ran between September 2010 and March 2013, in which Sara Netanyahu and then-Prime Minister's Office Deputy Director-General Ezra Seidoff allegedly lied about employing a cook in order to "circumvent and exploit regulations that stated, 'in a case where a cook is not employed in the [prime minister's] official residence, it is permitted to order prepared food as needed,'" the Post writes. Netanyahu is accused of having ordered more than $100,000 worth of meals while falsely claiming cooks were not on the staff.
There is some historical weight to the charges against Sara Netanyahu; former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin resigned in 1977 when his wife, Leah, was discovered to hold a U.S. dollar bank account, which at the time was illegal.
President Trump got his Time cover, but it probably isn't what he was hoping for.
Trump loves being on the cover of Time so much that he has a fake cover of himself hanging in at least four of his golf courses. The magazine's latest cover, though, is a striking condemnation of his recently revoked policy of separating children from their parents: "Welcome to America" is the only text on the cover other than Time itself.
Take a look at the powerful cover below, and see how New York City's tabloids tackled the same topic here. Jeva Lange
— TIME (@TIME) June 21, 2018
President Trump's supporters have a new chant, and it goes something like SPACE FORCE! SPACE FORCE! While certainly a marked improvement over "lock her up," even the Air Force and Defense secretaries have opposed the creation of the sixth branch of the armed forces, pointing out that space-related military missions already have a home under the Air Force's umbrella.
"We're re-opening NASA. We're going to be going to space," Trump says, though NASA has been open and going to space this whole time, and the crowd chants "SPACE FORCE SPACE FORCE," and it is 2018.
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) June 21, 2018
Still, it does have a pretty cool ring, which Trump himself tested out by repeating "Space Force" thoughtfully back to the crowd. Watch the Space Force enthusiasm below. Jeva Lange
— Fox News (@FoxNews) June 21, 2018
On Wednesday, President Trump did something no politician likes to do: He at least tacitly admitted he was wrong and made a dramatic retreat. Just about everyone outside the White House urged him to stop separating families detained at the border under his "zero tolerance" policy — Republicans, Democrats, the pope, every living first lady (including the one currently living in the White House), pollsters — but none of that convinced him to cave and sign his executive order, reports Mike Allen at Axios. "TV was the tipping point."
"The president watches more cable news than most Americans," a "person who knows Trump's mind" told Axios. "So he experienced an overdose of the outrage and the media frenzy. None of the White House messaging seemed to be helping. So he decided, mostly on his own rather than at the urging of advisers, that some action was required to change the narrative." A source close to Trump added: "This was the biggest communications fail I've seen out of this White House, and that's really saying something. The president, senior staffers, Cabinet members, and outside surrogates all trumpeted different talking points."
In fact, according to The Washington Post's count, the Trump administration changed its story on family separation at least 14 times.
Clearly, Trump "acted because of political necessity, not a change of heart," writes Los Angeles Times political columnist George Skelton. "The heart-rending sound of children crying for their mothers and the disturbing sight of little kids confined in wire cages are more powerful than any president." All the talking points in the world couldn't put out that "wildfire of public revulsion," he said. So "Trump finally did the right thing and stopped tormenting little kids. At least for now. We don't know what he'll do next, but hopefully there'll be sound and video." Peter Weber
The House is voting Thursday on a pair of immigration bills, neither of which is assured to garner enough support to pass. The bill with the best shot, known as the compromise bill, will need the support of House Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), although he told reporters after a visible disagreement with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Wednesday that it "is not ready for prime time," Politico reports.
A procedural vote early Thursday morning is planned to amend a drafting error in the bill, which accidentally allocated President Trump's wall $125 billion rather than $25 billion. The later votes on the bills will be a test for Trump, who spent Tuesday and Wednesday meeting with Republicans on the Hill in hopes of flipping them to support the White House-backed legislation. Jeva Lange
The number of Democrats who rank immigration as the most important issue facing the country jumped 10 percentage points in the last week, to 18 percent, while independents are also more engaged, with 11 percent picking it as the nation's most pressing issue, according to an Axios/SurveyMonkey poll released Thursday. Republican interest in immigration hasn't really changed much since early May, when, as now, 21 percent listed it as their most important issue.
There's been a big jump over the last week in the percentage of Americans who say immigration is the most important issue facing the country. https://t.co/uyHs9RTAYa
— Axios (@axios) June 21, 2018
What seems to have changed is that Americans were "bombarded by the images and sounds of families being separated after trying to cross the border illegally" — a Trump policy that Axios' Mike Allen calls "the biggest blunder of the Trump presidency." The "big question" going forward, Axios says, is "whether Democrats will stay as interested as Republicans, who have consistently ranked immigration as a much higher priority than it is for Democrats and independents." The poll was conducted online June 15-19 among 3,936 adults, and the modeled error estimate is ±2.5 percentage points. Peter Weber