Twitter reveals Russia-backed ads ahead of US election

A Twitter statement said the social media company shared data with congressional investigators about ads from RT, a television group with links to the Moscow government.

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Twitter said RT spent $274,000 in 2016 on Twitter ads that may have been used to try to influence the US election.

The news comes after Facebook acknowledged foreign entities linked to Russia paid to promote political messages on the leading social network, potentially violating US election laws.

A blog post by Twitter said its vice president for public policy, Colin Crowell, met with staff Thursday from two congressional panels investigating Russian interference in the election process.

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“This is an ongoing process and we will continue to collaborate with investigators,” the statement said.

Twitter said it examined efforts by foreign agents to interfere with the election after Facebook indicated it found 450 accounts that appeared to have been used for this purpose.

“Of the roughly 450 accounts that Facebook recently shared as a part of their review, we concluded that 22 had corresponding accounts on Twitter,” the statement said.

“All of those identified accounts had already been or immediately were suspended from Twitter for breaking our rules, most for violating our prohibitions against spam.”

‘Text to vote’ scam

The statement added that RT, which was named in January in a US intelligence report on election interference, spent at least $274,100 in 2016 for 1,823 tweet ads or “promotions” that “definitely or potentially targeted the US market.”

“These campaigns were directed at followers of mainstream media and primarily promoted RT Tweets regarding news stories,” the statement added.

In this June 13, 2013 file photo, then-FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. President Donald Trump’s closest allies are attacking the integrity of those involved in the widening probe of Russian interference in the U.S. election, accusing special counsel Mueller of driving a biased investigation.AAP

“We are concerned about violations of our terms of service and US law with respect to interference in the exercise of voting rights,” the statement said.

Twitter said that during the election campaign, it removed tweets “that were attempting to suppress or otherwise interfere with the exercise of voting rights, including the right to have a vote counted, by circulating intentionally misleading information.”

Twitter said some of the ads, or promoted tweets, aimed to deceive voters by telling them they could “text to vote,” which has no basis in fact.

“We have not found accounts associated with this activity to have obvious Russian origin, but some of the accounts appear to have been automated,” the statement said.

“We have shared examples of the content of these removed tweets with congressional investigators.”

Earlier this month, Facebook said it would turn over data on some 3,000 ads purchased by a Russian entity that appeared to inflame political divisions during the campaign. Some $100,000 was spent on the Facebook ads.

The House Intelligence Committee meets in a secure setting, behind closed doors on Capitol Hill, Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017 in Washington.AAP

Democratic Senator Mark Warner called Twitter’s presentation “deeply disappointing” and “inadequate.”

Warner told reporters that the Twitter data was “basically derivative based on accounts that Facebook had identified (and) showed an enormous lack of understanding from the Twitter team of how serious this issue is, the threat it poses to democratic institutions, and again begs many more questions.”

New research on ‘bots’

US lawmakers as well as a special prosecutor are investigating whether Russia interfered with the election or aided Donald Trump’s successful presidential campaign.

A study released Thursday meanwhile found the campaign to spread “junk news” during the 2016 presidential election via Twitter appeared to target key states that were the most contested.

The research paper by the Oxford University Project on Computational Propaganda suggested a sophisticated effort to spread disinformation using automated accounts, or “bots.”

The researchers said that in the days leading up to the election, “Twitter users got more misinformation, polarizing and conspiratorial content than professionally produced news.”

But in swing states, “average levels of misinformation were higher,” even when weighted for the relative size of the state.

The study is just the latest to highlight the role of a disinformation campaign, widely believed to have been directed from Russia, to influence the election and help Trump while hurting his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

The Oxford researchers said the latest analysis suggests “strategically disseminated polarizing information” during the campaign.

A Twitter statement questioned the accuracy of the study, saying that research conducted by third parties about the impact of bots and misinformation on Twitter “is almost always inaccurate and methodologically flawed.”

One of the reasons for the inaccuracy, Twitter said, is that just two percent of all tweets contain geolocation data.

Veep star Julia Louis-Dreyfus announces she has breast cancer

The 56-year-old American actress revealed the diagnosis to her 750,000 Twitter followers, posting a note that read: “One in eight women get breast cancer.

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Today, I’m the one.”

“The good news is that I have the most glorious group of supportive and caring friends, and fantastic insurance through my union,” she continued.

“The bad news is that not all women are so lucky, so let’s fight all cancers and make universal health care a reality.”

Just when you thought… pic南京夜生活,/SbtYChwiEj

— Julia Louis-Dreyfus (@OfficialJLD) September 28, 2017

Louis-Dreyfus, who has two children with actor Brad Hall, attached an image of the note to a tweet in which she wrote: “Just when you thought…”

The news comes less than two weeks after the “Veep” star won a sixth consecutive Emmy for comedy acting.

A native New Yorker of French stock, Louis-Dreyfus has been one of America’s most popular and influential comedy actors since she found fame with cult sitcom “Seinfeld” in the 1990s.

On “Veep” she plays a somewhat bumbling vice president who later becomes the acting president, despite her hapless staff making political blunders along the way.

She has six consecutive best actress Emmys for “Veep” as well as three as an executive producer when it was awarded best comedy series.

She has won in the past for her roles on “Seinfeld” — which also earned her a Golden Globe — and “The New Adventures of Old Christine.”

It has been a rollercoaster year or so for the actress, who tearfully dedicated her acting Emmy in 2016 to her father, who passed away two days earlier.

“I am so glad that he liked ‘Veep,'” she said, her voice breaking down as she accepted the award. “Because his opinion was the one that really mattered.”

“Veep” recently announced that the seventh season of the HBO show, due to premiere in 2018, will be its last.

Dean Pay to revive ‘Dogs of War’ attitude

New Canterbury coach Dean Pay has promised to bring back the “Dogs of War” mentality and reintroduce “a little bit of madness” into the once-feared NRL side.

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A former premiership player with the Bulldogs, Pay will take over in 2018 after Des Hasler was sacked.

Pay wants an aggressive and physical playing style, similar to what he played under in his seven seasons at the club in the late 1980s and 1990s.

In his first appearance Friday as Canterbury’s new mentor, the former Bulldogs premiership winner spoke of bringing his own style to the club but still incorporating an old-school mentality.

After getting the nod for the head coaching role ahead of Jim Dymock following Des Hasler’s sacking a fortnight ago, Pay promised a return to the club’s roots and to instil a bit of ruthlessness.

“The last eight years I’ve worked with Craig Bellamy down in Melbourne and Ricky Stuart (in Canberra) so I’ve taken a lot from both coaches and I’ve got my own thoughts on the game,” Pay said.

“We’ll play our own style of footy; we’ll play Bulldogs footy next year. We won’t be copping anyone that’s for sure.

“I want to be a really aggressive team with our defence, and especially with our attack.”

Asked if that meant a return to the “Dogs of War” mentality, which the club was famous for during the 1980s, Pay said: “Well, we want a bit of madness out of them, that’s for sure.”

Pay had seven seasons at Belmore from 1989-95 including playing in the club’s 1995 grand final-winning side. The last of their eight premierships was in 2004, with Pay becoming their fifth NRL coach since then.

His predecessor Hasler was criticised by club greats such as Steve Mortimer and Terry Lamb as not understanding the DNA of the “the family club”.

Pay also revealed star recruits Kieran Foran and Aaron Woods were contenders for the club captaincy after James Graham was forced out for salary cap reasons. He has a three-year deal with St George Illawarra from 2018.

Pady said he wouldn’t make a decision on the new skipper until he had got to know all of his troops but confirmed the duo were among the contenders.

“I’ve got a few players in mind, but I’ll hope to get to know them a bit better in the pre-season and we’ll discuss it,” Pay said.

“(Woods) would have to be a contender as well.”

Woods and Foran have only been provisionally signed as the Bulldogs have been told by the NRL they must offload players to get under the cap before the contracts are registered.

It’s reported Brett and Josh Morris and Greg Eastwood have been shopped around to rival clubs and chairman Ray Dib said he hoped to make an announcement that the club was salary cap compliant in the “next few days”.

Pay also revealed that hooker Michael Lichaa, who was told he had would not be re-signed under Hasler’s watch, was a chance of remaining at the club.

Crows speedster not thinking of AFL trade

Adelaide livewire Charlie Cameron says the lure of returning to Queensland is far from his mind as he prepares for the AFL grand final.

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The line-breaking forward looms as one of the Crows’ deadliest weapons in Saturday’s premiership decider against Richmond at the MCG.

Already enjoying a breakout season, Cameron showed he belonged on the big stage when he booted five majors during last week’s preliminary final win over Geelong.

Brisbane have made no secret of their interest in the 23-year-old, who was drafted from Western Australia but grew up in Queensland and has family there.

Lions coach Chris Fagan last month declared he would love to have Cameron in his side, angering Crows counterpart Don Pyke who said it was inappropriate given Cameron is contracted until the end of 2018.

Speculation about his future continues to swirl but Cameron says there’s no strong desire on his part to return home.

“Not really. I guess I’ve always had that thought but I’ve enjoyed my time (in Adelaide),” Cameron said at Friday’s grand final parade.

“I’ve got a great group of people around me with Eddie (Betts) and the other indigenous blokes like Cam Ellis-Yolmen that I’m pretty close with.

“I guess there’s always rumours about me leaving. I’m just preparing for this week so I haven’t really thought about what’s going to happen in the near-future.”

The 30-year-old Betts has become a strong mentor to Adelaide’s indigenous youngsters, and Cameron has proven no exception.

When Cameron arrived at West Lakes as a homesick 19-year-old, Betts and his wife Anna took him into their home, snuck vegetables into his meals and helped him adjust to life as a professional footballer.

“He’s been amazing for me in terms of my transition into the AFL,” Cameron said.

“He’s helped me out a lot, so it would be weird if I left.

“But I haven’t really thought about leaving. I’m just trying to focus on footy and focus on tomorrow.”

Spanish police to enforce independence ban

Spanish police have sealed off schools earmarked as polling stations and occupied the Catalan government’s communications hub in efforts to prevent a banned independence referendum.

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Supporters of the poll spent Friday night in schools with their children and say they plan to stay until Sunday to keep them open for voters, although a Spanish government source says more than half have been closed off.

Tens of thousands of Catalans are expected to attempt to vote in a ballot that will have no legal status as it has been blocked by Spain’s Constitutional Court and Madrid for being at odds with the 1978 constitution.

Catalonia is a wealthy region within Spain with its own language, which is taught in schools and universally spoken.

“We slept and waited for (police) so they would not try to evict us or tell us what they wanted,” Giselle, who did not give her surname, said at a Barcelona school where adults and children slept on gym mats.

“They came once and they were very polite. We told them we were inside and in peace,” Giselle added.

A Spanish government source said police, who have been mobilised in their thousands to the region in the northeast of Spain to enforce a court order banning the referendum, would remove people from polling stations on Sunday.

The Catalan government said police had occupied its communications hub and would remain there for two days after Catalonia’s High Court ordered police to prevent electronic voting and instructed Google to delete an application it said was being used to spread information on the vote.

Despite central government and court efforts to prevent the referendum, Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont told Reuters on Friday it would go ahead, with no last minute compromise.

“Everything is prepared at the more than 2000 voting points so they have ballot boxes and voting slips and have everything people need to express their opinion,” Puigdemont said.

On Saturday the government source said police had sealed off 1300 of the 2315 schools in the region which were designated to be used for polling and 163 had been occupied by families.

Proteas declare, Elgar falls cruelly short

Dean Elgar has fallen one short of a double-century but that was only minor relief for Bangladesh as South Africa declared on 3-496 at tea on day two of the first Test.

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Elgar’s career-best 199 was the anchor for South Africa to pile on the runs after being given the opportunity to bat first on a placid pitch in Potchefstroom.

Bangladesh was ruing that decision to bowl first as Elgar made a big century, Hashim Amla added 137, and opening batsman Aiden Markram made 97 on debut on the first day.

Captain Faf du Plessis (26 not out) and Temba Bavuma (31 not out) were at the crease when South Africa decided at the tea break that they had enough runs to put Bangladesh in. Du Plessis and Bavuma’s unbroken partnership was worth 51.

Bangladesh did manage two wickets in the day’s second session, their first success since Markram was run out just before tea on the first day.

Shafiul Islam had 1-74 and Mustafizur Rahman 1-98 for Bangladesh.

Elgar and Amla put on 215 for the second wicket, following on from the 196-run opening stand by Elgar and Markram.

Amla fell straight after lunch, caught at backward point. His 27th Test century took him past West Indies’ Garry Sobers on the all-time list and level with Graeme Smith for the second-most hundreds by a South African. Jacques Kallis has 45 Test centuries.

Elgar hit 15 fours and three sixes and is the leading run-scorer in Test cricket this year following his ninth career ton and fourth of 2017.

He fell agonisingly short of a maiden double century, trying to play a hook off Rahman and lobbing a catch to Mominul Haque at midwicket.

South Africa and Bangladesh will play two Tests, with the series Ottis Gibson’s first in charge of South Africa.

Long haul for Bangladesh in fightback against South Africa

Mominul Haque (28) and Tamim Iqbal, who hit a six off the final ball of the day to reach 22, were not out at stumps on Friday as Bangladesh began their reply after South Africa’s tea-time declaration on 496 for three.

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Visiting captain Mushfiqur Rahim led a spirited charge but fell on 44 from 57 balls after being caught at forward short leg off Keshav Maharaj, who had seen Dean Elgar at first slip spill two earlier chances to snag the Bangladesh skipper.

Mushfiqur’s brief spell suggested the possibility of an intriguing contest as a flat track at Senwes Park looked likely to begin offering more turn on the third day on Saturday.

Mushfiqur’s wicket followed that of openers Imrul Kayes (7) and Liton Das (25), who went early as Kagiso Rabada and Morne Morkel made the breakthrough for the hosts.

Elgar fell one run short of a maiden double century as South Africa battered Bangladesh’s bowlers for a second day. They were 298 for one overnight as Elgar made his highest test score and Hashim Amla completed his 27th century before lunch on Friday.

Amla became the 70,000th wicket in test cricket when he was dismissed three balls after lunch, chipping Shafiul Islam straight to Mehidy Hasan at backward point to depart for 137.

Elgar, who seemed to lose concentration as he approached his double ton, skyed a short delivery into the air to be caught by Mominul an agonising single run short of the milestone.

On the first day, Elgar saw his new opening partner Aiden Markram run out for 97, heartbreakingly short of a debut ton.

(Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Ken Ferris)

How Kohli is inspiring Australian comeback

With the one-day international series already lost, Australia can find inspiration from the most unlikely source: Indian skipper Virat Kohli.

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India were 4-0 down in a five-match series Australia in January 2016 when Kohli boldly declared he wanted to go home with a 4-4 result after three T20 internationals.

His team backed him up and a little more than 18 later his opposite number Steve Smith is in a similar position.

After Australia’s breakthrough win in Bangalore, they are 3-1 down and hanging on to the possibility of winning Sunday’s final ODI in Nagpur before a clean sweep of the three T20Is to finish the tour.

“I think they lost the first four one-dayers and Virat spoke about winning the last one-dayer and then the three T20s to make it four-all,” Australian fast bowler Kane Richardson said.

“If we can keep winning and get ahead of them in terms of win/loss for the tour that would be the goal.”

India experimented with their batting order and rested players as they fell 21 runs short on Thursday.

Even so, Australia garnered some much-needed confidence out of their most complete batting performance and some impressive bowling at the death.

“It’s all about momentum now heading into the T20s,” Richardson said.

“But as we know it’s quite tough over here.

“Unless you play the perfect game it’s tough to win.”

Australia finally ended an away winless streak which had stretched to 13 games with victory in Bangalore.

Richardson admitted the win had released the pressure of a losing run, which started with a 5-0 whitewash in South Africa last year.

“It’s definitely nice to win the boys who have experienced those last couple of tours,” he said.

“The 5-0 in South Africa, hearing from the boys that was quite tough.

“Now heading to Nagpur the goal is to keep winning.”

One-day cricket’s most accomplished finisher MS Dhoni couldn’t guide his team home with Richardson holding his nerve by bowling slower balls.

Dhoni chopped on to give the South Australian quick his third wicket as he came home with a wet sail to take 3-58.

“It is nerve-racking. The plan is to never put anything in his arc,” Richardson said.

Duntroon in the Dunes: The school where Australian soldiers are always armed

At the Afghan National Army Officer Academy, on the outskirts of Kabul, yellow smoke drifts lazily across the mock up village.

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Gunfire rings out, the sound of blank cartridges, as the toli – or company – of Afghan officer cadets storm compounds under the direction of their officers.

Watching on are British, Danish, New Zealander and Australian staff. This is the mission for the Australian Defence Force to train, advise and assist at the Afghan National Army Officer Academy.

Australian soldiers, like Captain Gabrielle Taylor are not training the cadets; they are mentoring the officers who train the cadets.

Afghan National Army officers watch the exerciseMyles Morgan

“It’s my role to ensure the instructors are practising the most up-to-date instructional techniques, and just to hone their skills as much as we can while we’re here,” she said.

“It’s absolutely not a box ticking exercise. We know there’s a real threat out there and they’re going to face it as soon as they graduate as officers from ANAOA.”

The threats are numerous in one of the world’s most dangerous nations.

The Afghan government controls about 60 per cent of the the country. The Taliban controls about 10 per cent, mostly in the south, and the remainder is contested by radical groups like Al Qaeda, the Haqqani Network and a relatively young Islamic State Korasan Province.

The nation needs ANAOA to work so the country has a capable military. The officer cadets are trained on the Sandhurst model in small infantry tactics, leadership, disciple, physical fitness and military culture.

Officer cadets training to fight in a village.Myles Morgan

The British refer to it as Sandhurst in the Sand, the Australian equivalent is Duntroon in the Dunes.  

Captain Jawad, an Afghan National Army officer at ANAOA, told SBS World News he was confident the school would turn its cadets into effective leaders for an often maligned ANA.

“Yeah, absolutely because the plan of education we are having in this academy is a high equality program and I’m sure the cadets will graduate as good officers from this academy,” he said.

His role is to discipline cadets in his toli and teach them about leadership.

“A leader is having lots of good qualities like having a good plan, being honest, to have good morals,” he said.

MORE NEWSAfghan women training alongside men 

ANAOA is trying to be as progressive as the western military mentoring. Female officer cadets have only recently been integrated into classrooms and field exercises alongside their male colleagues.

This year, the academy hopes to see its 100th female soldier graduate.

Officer Cadet Noori, from Kabul, joined the academy a few months ago.

“I came to this academy to learn something here for the sake of this country, to serve for this country and the sake of ladies as well. They should have a good life in Afghanistan,” she told SBS World News.

Afghan women have only recently been allowed to train alongside menMyles Morgan

As she is being interviewed, some male officers watch on curiously, making the occasional remark.

“We don’t have any challenges in this academy,” she said.  

“All the officers, they’re here with us like brothers, they are respecting to the ladies.”

Many of the female officer cadets hide their identities, especially around strangers, to avoid death threats and being targeted by the country’s insurgents.

Captain Taylor said there was a period of adjustment for the Afghans as they recognised she was a female officer.

“It’s something they’re not used to, but I’m sure with us having an increased presence here at ANAOA it will become more familiar to them,” she said.

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There’s also the familiar sight of armed Australian soldiers at ANAOA. No Australian mentor enters the academy without at least one armed guardian angel – ready to react at any moment to threats like an insider attack or the base coming under fire.

It’s one of the most combat-like roles in the Australian military today.

For cadets like Officer Cadet Noori, she hopes her graduation will be an inspiration for a country trying to rebuild itself after forty years of war.

“I am proud and I’m feeling honourable,” she said.

“It’s a big proud [sic] for my family as well to be an officer in the future.”

Definitely on the path to success: British Chief Mentor

The Chief Mentor at ANAOA is British Brigadier David Colthup. He’s responsible for the Academy’s 63 mentors, a mixture of British, Australian, Danish and New Zealander soldiers.

He praised the “pragmatic” approach of the Australian soldier.

“The mentors themselves bring a different perspective from our army’s way of approaching things. Not wrong, just different,” he told SBS World News.

“That’s a rich mix of experience that contributes to the mission as a whole.”

On his third deployment to Afghanistan, he said many other nations would struggle to create a similarly successful academy as the Afghans have done in five years.

“So far in its existence, it’s commissioned over 2,500 cadets and at the end of November this year, we’ll pass the 3,000 mark,” he said.

“The training works fine but we just need to make sure that, institutionally, the organisation is resilient enough to survive the knocks and bumps it will experience like any military academy does.”

He said while the British partnership with ANAOA will be enduring, it will not always be so well manned.

“For us, the measure of success is that at some point in the future we are able to reduce the amount of officer training we do.”

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Cyril’s simple AFL advice for Daniel Rioli

Cyril Rioli had a simple piece of AFL advice for cousin Daniel this week: it’s not going to be pretty.

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Hawthorn star Cyril, who will watch Saturday’s grand final on the TV from the Northern Territory, was an obvious sounding board for Richmond youngster Daniel.

“He’s played in five grand finals – I think – there’s too many to keep count,” Daniel Rioli noted on Friday.

So many of Cyril’s performances in September, including that which led to him pocketing the Norm Smith medal in 2015, have been special because of his goals or grabs.

But the small forward’s pressure acts also played a key part in the Hawks’ golden era.

“I tried to pick his brain about some things,” Daniel Rioli said of this week’s call.

“He told me: run hard, get to every contest. You can’t play perfectly on the day, just work hard. It’s going to be a high-pressure game.

“Play your own brand of footy and bring the pressure up forward that we’ve done this whole season.”

Rioli knows he will be trying to step out of an immense shadow against Adelaide at the MCG on Saturday.

The 20-year-old’s family history in finals is incredible: Cyril, Maurice Rioli and Michael Long have all won Norm Smith medals.

“They all play their own brand of footy. I play my own,” he said.

Daniel Rioli’s Norm Smith tip is Dustin Martin.

Rioli could be in the best-on-ground conversation if he kicks four goals, as was the case in the Tigers’ preliminary final win over Greater Western Sydney.

Victory is understandably higher on his agenda.

“I remember watching it last year on telly, you get kind of jealous,” Rioli said.

“Last year wasn’t the best year … we weren’t where we wanted to be. Now we are and I can’t wait, we’ve got big things to do tomorrow.”

Rioli forecast a quiet night at coach Damien Hardwick’s household, where he lives.

“I’m going to see my family, catch up, get everything out of the way and have no stress at all,” he said.