Putin Plans to Put Russians on Mars in 2019

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It’s the 21st century, yet these days it’s feeling an awful lot like the frosty bite of the Cold War is, somehow, back from the dead. We’ve got Russian attacks on American institutions (well, cyberattacks, but still) and meddling in our elections, we’ve got former Russian spies getting killed on what is likely Putin’s orders on British soil.

And now, Putin has announced that he plans to send manned and unmanned missions to Mars as early as 2019. He also plans to send missions to the Moon and deeper into space.

If the manned Mars mission is successful, Putin’s faction will get there years before competing missions from SpaceX (which anticipates sending humans to the Red Planet in 2024) and NASA (in the 2030s). NASA also plans to send another unmanned mission to Mars in 2020 specifically to find signs of past microbial life. Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX, recently said that he plans to start testing the BFR, the ship that might take humans to Mars, a bit earlier than anticipated, completing the first test flights by early 2019.

The Russian president announced the upcoming missions in a documentary uploaded to the Russian social media site vkontakte and reported by Newsweek. “We are planning unmanned and later manned launches — into deep space, as part of a lunar program and for Mars exploration. The closest mission is very soon, we are planning to launch a mission to Mars in 2019,” he said, according to Russian news agency RT. “Our specialists will try landing near the poles because there are reasons to expect water there. There is research to be done there, and from that, research of other planets and outer space can be undertaken.”

Putin didn’t give any additional information about when the launches might happen.

If its recent track record is any indication, however, Russia might not prove to be such a strong competitor in the race to set foot on the Red Planet. In 2011, the Russian probe Phobos-Grunt was headed for Mars, but instead got trapped in the Earth’s orbit and eventually fell into the Pacific. And that’s just the most recent in several decades’ worth of interstellar failures.

Putin also didn’t elaborate on why he wanted to send Russians to Mars. But what drives anyone to pursue space exploration? To bring glory to their homeland, to further scientific understanding — and, yes, to assert international dominance. If the nation’s space program has worked out its kinks, and can launch successful spacecraft in the timeline Putin says, Russia might have a decent shot at accomplishing all of those things.

The post Putin Plans to Put Russians on Mars in 2019 appeared first on Futurism.

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Russians Pose as Americans to Steal Data on Social Media

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Americans have been targeted on social media by Russian agents on a mission to harvest personal information. The agents pretended to work for organizations promoting African-American businesses as a ruse to obtain personal information from black business owners during the 2016 presidential election campaign. Using names like “BlackMattersUS” and “Black4Black,” the agents set up hundreds of social media accounts. Facebook’s recently introduced tool for identifying Russian propaganda doesn’t address Kremlin agents masquerading as Americans.
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It’s at least getting harder to argue that the Trump campaign helped Russians buy Facebook ads

There are plenty of links between the Trump campaign and the Russians. But the Mueller indictments and a Facebook exec’s commentary may be deflating this particular theory.

Robert Mueller and his team are the latest U.S. officials to argue that Russia tried to use Facebook to interfere with the 2016 election.

But the indictments against Russian nationals that Mueller unveiled last Friday, coupled with commentary from a Facebook ad executive, may also undermine a compelling theory among some analysts and lawmakers — that the Trump campaign worked in concert with Russian agents to place Facebook ads and other posts during the election.

Here, for instance, is Hillary Clinton, talking to Recode co-founder Walt Mossberg at last year’s Code Conference:

Clinton: “The Russians — in my opinion and based on the intel and the counterintel people I’ve talked to — could not have known how best to weaponize that information unless they had been guided.”

Mossberg: Guided by Americans.

Clinton: Guided by Americans and guided by people who had polling and data information

Here’s another version of the argument, via a Vanity Fair report last fall:

Mapping the full Russian propaganda effort is important. Yet investigators in the House, Senate, and special counsel Robert Mueller’s office are equally focused on a more explosive question: did any Americans help target the memes and fake news to crucial swing districts and wavering voter demographics? “By Americans, you mean, like, the Trump campaign?” a source close to one of the investigations said with a dark laugh.

But on Friday, two different disclosures made that theoretical cooperation harder to imagine.

  • Mueller’s detailed, 37-page indictment didn’t offer any suggestion that the Trump campaign worked with Russians to exploit Facebook and other digital platforms. In fact, it says that when the Trump campaign did interact with Russian plotters, it was at the lowest level possible — local Trump campaign workers and activists — and that the Trump campaigners who did interact with Russians had no idea they were talking to Russians — they just thought they were talking to enthusiastic Trump fans.
  • Facebook ad executive Rob Goldman, via Twitter, said the majority of Russian-financed pro-Trump ad spending on Facebook didn’t show up until after the election. It’s worth noting that while Goldman’s comments generated serious blowback this weekend, particularly after Donald Trump retweeted him, Goldman hasn’t backed away from his assertion. (It’s also worth noting that I’ve talked to current and former Facebookers who back Goldman up. They feel bad that his comments have turned into a pro-Trump cudgel to beat up the media, but they think his commentary is also correct.)

If you take both of those items at face value, it doesn’t leave you much room to believe that the Trump campaign worked with Russians in a sophisticated campaign to buy ads on Facebook aimed at electing Trump.

That doesn’t rule out active Trump/Russian collaboration in other parts of the campaign. And there are certainly many other connections between Trump and Russia that remain unsettling, at the very least. Recall, for instance, Donald Trump, Jr.’s email expressing excitement over proposed campaign help from Russian backers.

You can add other caveats as well.

Perhaps Goldman is flat-out wrong. Or perhaps Mueller will eventually make a much more explicit connection between Russians and high-level Trump campaign officials, which will include Facebook activities. And, or, perhaps the Trump campaign and Russians collaborated, but only on unpaid Facebook posts.

But some people have been waiting to see evidence of a connection between the Trump campaign and Russian social media activity for more than a year. Right now, they are still waiting.


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Rob Goldstone, the music publicist who connected Russians to the Trump campaign, is talking again

Remember him?

Rob Goldstone is back.

The British music publicist who brokered a meeting between the Trump campaign and four Russians in the summer of 2016, then became famous last summer for doing so, is talking again.

Goldstone went quiet once emails between him and Donald Trump Jr surfaced in July. Now he given his first interview since the story broke. It’s with the The Times of London, and in it Goldstone explains how and why he arranged the meeting, while downplaying its significance.

Goldstone now says his outreach to Donald Trump’s son, where he said there was “very high level and sensitive information” about Hillary Clinton available as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr Trump,” was full of “puffery”.

His intent, Goldstone says, was to arrange a meeting with the Trump family and his client Emin Agalarov, a Russian pop star whose father is oligarch Aras Agalarov. He says he didn’t think much about the language he used to approach the Trump campaign, or the content of the meeting, which he attended.

I’ll leave it to professional Trump followers — including Robert Mueller, whom Goldstone says he plans to talk to — to interpret Goldstone’s commentary. Though it seems to me the key part of the incident is the Trump campaign’s willingness to meet Russians who said they had dirt on Hillary Clinton.

As I read it, that includes Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who in Goldstone’s telling was “furious” during the meeting — because Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya didn’t provide information about Clinton. Goldstone: “I believe that she practised a classic bait-and-switch. She got in there on one pretext and really wanted to discuss something else.”

Back to Goldstone: He tells the Times he’s been hanging out in Asia, as part of a previously planned year-long trip around the world. He says he’s as surprised as anyone that he has a featured role in the ongoing Trump/Russia story: “Look, I’m quite loud, I’m quite brash and openly gay on social media,” he says. “I don’t exactly fit the mould.”

About that social media part: Until today, Goldstone seems to have clammed up on Facebook, where he used to post lots of selfies of himself in ridiculous hats. But his account is still up and running, and occasionally his friends tag him in posts: There is a series of posts from this fall featuring restaurants in Thailand. (I’m Facebook friends with Goldstone, and when I saw them I assumed the tags were jokes, because why would Goldstone want people to know where he was if he wasn’t talking in public? But now it looks like they were real, after all.)

Now Goldstone is using the account again — to promote himself. Today’s post is a video of someone flipping through a print edition of Goldstone’s profile, with this caption: “Today — after many months — I got my voice back and told my story exclusively to the U.K. Sunday Times Magazine.”

Presumably Goldstone will have more Facebook posts to come, when he publishes a book he says he’s writing. Working title: “Useful Idiot: How an Email Trumped My Life.”


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Russians orchestrated rallies and protests across America using Facebook


Russian-backed Facebook Pages were responsible for dozens of real-world political events in the US, including a “Blue Lives Matter” rally in one city and a police brutality protest in another – on the same days. The extent to which the Russian propaganda machine has influenced Americans continues to unfold, and it’s becoming apparent ads purchased by bad actors may be the least of our worries. A Wall Street Journal investigation today revealed at least 60 marches, rallies, or protests were orchestrated, publicized or financed by eight Russian-backed Facebook Pages. By the numbers, the report seems to indicate a level of…

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Russians have invented a high-tech heater that also mines Ethereum


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Facebook and Twitter have to stop Russians and others from sharing racist content, black U.S. lawmakers insist

The pressure comes as Congress continues to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Black lawmakers in Congress are increasing pressure on Facebook and Twitter to prevent Russian malefactors — or anyone else — from spreading racist messages on social media in a bid to fuel political unrest in the United States.

During the 2016 presidential election, Kremlin-aligned forces purchased thousands of ads on Facebook, many of which sought to stir trouble by riling supporters and opponents alike on both sides of contentious issues — including causes like immigration and Black Lives Matter, sources have said.

Given the tech industry’s well-documented troubles addressing issues of diversity, three U.S. lawmakers — Reps. Robin Kelly, Bonnie Watson Coleman, and Emanuel Cleaver — are now pushing the two tech giants anew to police their platforms more aggressively.

In a letter sent Friday, obtained by Recode, they urge Facebook and Twitter to appoint people of color to their boards of directors, while commissioning new audits of ads at each company to ensure they aren’t spreading “fake news.” And the three lawmakers — all members of the Congressional Black Caucus, or CBC — further press the tech giants to take down ads that are “aimed at inciting racial discontent” or “voter suppression.”

With it, they ask Facebook and Twitter to commit to sharing copies of the ads purchased by Russian sources during the presidential election with all members of Congress by December 1, 2017. So far, Facebook has found about 3,000 ads bought by Kremlin sources, while Twitter has found about 200 accounts tied to Russia. But the two companies have only shared that information with the three congressional committees investigating Kremlin meddling in the election.

“As members of the House of Representatives, we owe it to the communities we represent to ensure that social media platforms are not manipulated to incite violence, sow discord, or undermine our democratic institutions,” Kelly, Watson Coleman, and Cleaver begin. “Members of Color, in particular, are additionally impacted by this issue, as the communities we represent are disproportionately strong consumers of social media, and additionally vulnerable to these attacks and misinformation.”

Spokespeople for Facebook and Twitter did not immediately respond to requests seeking comment.

To be sure, Facebook and Twitter have rules in place that prohibit discrimination of any sort — from the ads that groups purchase to the posts that their uses share.

But abusive content often seems to slip through the cracks, and the companies’ ad systems have been easily gamed in the past — such as when ProPublica found itself able to purchase and target advertising on Facebook aimed at those interested in “Jew haters.”

Following those incidents, the companies have further tightened their systems. And as reports emerged about the extent of Russia’s attempts to spread disinformation in 2016 by preying on users’ racial, religious or other characteristics, the tech giants promised additional checks still to come. This week, for example, Facebook informed advertisers that it would begin subjecting more of their content to manual review.

Some of the commitments have drawn some early, tentative praise from the three black lawmakers — Kelly, Watson Coleman, and Cleaver — who wrote Facebook and Twitter on Friday. But they still stress in their letter that there’s much more work to do, particularly in light of the fact that “the next foreign-sponsored effort to disrupt U.S. elections … will not resemble the last,” they wrote.

Behind the scenes, meanwhile, CBC members contacted Facebook and Twitter in recent weeks to raise their concerns about the Russian-bought divisive ads. The meeting came after some of the same lawmakers targeted Twitter, specifically, in a letter urging it to address the racist content posted online — by users, bots and Russian trolls alike.

Nor is it the first time that the Congressional Black Caucus has pressed the tech industry on issues related to diversity. For years, its leaders have urged companies like Apple, Facebook, Google and Twitter to improve their hiring practices, similarly threatening regulation and other scrutiny if they did not.

Facebook and Twitter could face some of these questions in the open next month, when they’re set to appear before the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to testify about Russian meddling in the 2016 election.


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