Meddling for Trump? The most expensive Twitter ad was about Bernie Sanders – RT Editor-in-Chief

The accusations of “meddling” in US elections are not valid, as Russian media is targeted for covering US political news, RT and Sputnik Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan said, noting jokingly that the costliest Twitter ad was not even about Trump, but Sanders.

Simonyan delivered the comments on Wednesday at an extended panel of the Russian Federation Council’s Interim Committee on the Protection of Sovereignty. The meeting was called to discuss last week’s move by Twitter to impose a blanket ban on ads from RT and Sputnik, citing alleged US “election interference.”

 

Russian media is being targeted in the US effectively due to its political coverage and therefore having political ads, Simonyan told the Committee. Twitter itself had approached RT with an advertising campaign proposal during the 2016 US election campaign, she added. 

“Look, we’re not an ice cream factory or the ‘Golos’ (Voice) program [a popular Russian TV singing contest] – we’re a news channel that’s focused on politics. Moreover, we were offered [the chance] to use political issues for promotion,” Simonyan told the meeting, showing the pitch from Twitter. The proposed ads campaign cost over $3 million, with customized emojis alone costing $800,000, according to the promotional materials shown by Simonyan to the meeting. 

“Twitter now is blaming us for what it initiated itself. Here’s this lovely presentation. [Twitter] approached us with it and said, ‘Hey, guys, look how cool [your ads would look on] our platform during the US presidential elections,’” she told the Committee.

“Unfortunately, we could not afford to spend such a sum,” she said, adding, that total expenditure on the promotional campaign in 2016 was some $275,000, Simonyan said. That’s the equivalent of the cost of a two-room apartment in a Moscow suburb, she pointed out.

 
© Global Look Press

“The most expensive Twitter ad [at $12,000] on RT America was about Bernie Sanders – not Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, but Bernie Sanders. How can you use this to make it look like we interfered in the US election race to help Trump – I don’t quite get it. Yet, this is what we are accused of,” she added.

Twitter, however, cited the report released in January, compiled by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). It devoted seven pages to RT’s alleged influence on the election “by serving as a platform for Kremlin messaging to Russian and international audiences.”

The report, which did not provide any solid facts to back up its far-reaching allegations, has been widely cited as “proof” to fuel the “Russian election meddling” hysteria that persists in the US. It was also used as a pretext to put severe pressure on Russian media broadcasting in the US, particularly RT America.

In September, the contractor that supplies various services for RT America, including TV production and operations, received a letter from the US Department of Justice, claiming that it was obliged to register as a “foreign agent,” under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The Act was adopted in the late 1930s to counter pro-Nazi propaganda and serves the goal of informing “the people of the United States … of the source of information (propaganda) and the identity of persons attempting to influence US public opinion, policy, and laws.”

 
CNN World Headquarters © John Greim / Getty Images

Foreign media have always been exempted from the effects of the Act, due to the principle of freedom of the press. If RT's contractor fails to register as a foreign agent, it may face the seizure of its assets and even arrests of its employees, which would effectively destroy RT America’s ability to broadcast.

The pressure on Russian media outlets and the threats to limit their ability to broadcast triggered an angry reaction in Moscow, which has repeatedly promised to implement tit-for-tat measures against the US media if any of the decisions to hamper the freedom of Russian media outlets would be implemented. Apart from adopting reciprocal measures, Russia is ready to impose restrictions on US NGOs and their affiliates if Washington undertakes hostile moves against Russian media, Deputy Justice Minister Oleg Plokhoy said at the Committee meeting on Wednesday.

“We will likely have to implement measures to tighten control over foreign NGOs and their branches, agencies and other affiliated persons. The degree of that control is almost identical to those measures undertaken in the US today against Russian media,” Plokhoy said, stressing that the Justice Ministry is ready to implement such measures immediately, as it’s been working in the “cocked-hammer” mode since the threat to Russian media emerged.

  • Published in World

No evidence of RT manipulating YouTube during US election – Google

Google says it found no evidence that RT manipulated video hosting platform YouTube or violated its policies during the 2016 US election campaign. It comes amid a frenzy in the US over alleged Russian meddling in the election and RT’s coverage in particular.

On Monday, Richard Salgado, Google’s director for law enforcement and information security, shared the results of the company’s investigation into how Google products may have been misused to affect the election. The two-page report falls far short of revealing the smoking gun that some commentators were hoping for.

 
© Dado Ruvic

Google identified two accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency, a Russian-based NGO accused by some US media reports of being a Russian government “troll bot factory.” The accounts spent a total of $4,700 on Google platforms during the 2016 election cycle on search and display ads, the report said. The ads were not targeted at specific groups based on geography or political preferences.

On YouTube, Google found 18 channels “likely associated” with the campaign that published videos in English and “with content that appeared to be political,” but not exclusively so. The channels uploaded 1,108 such videos representing 43 hours of content and totaling 309,000 US views from June 2015 to November 2016, the report said, noting that a single user may generate multiple views on a single video. Only 3 percent of the videos generated more than 5,000 views, Google said. Neither channel was targeted at the US or any particular part of the US public. The company has suspended the channels in question.

The report also specifically mentioned the use of YouTube by RT, which remains the most-viewed international news network on the platform. “Some have raised questions about the use of YouTube by RT, a media service funded by the Russian government,” the document said. “Our investigation found no evidence of manipulation of our platform or policy violations; RT—and all other state-sponsored media outlets— remains subject to our standard rules.”

Commenting on Google’s report, RT’s Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan said: “As they said in school, QED [Latin: quod erat demonstrandum, English: ‘what was to be shown].”

Earlier, microblogging website Twitter banned the accounts of RT and another Russian news outlet, Sputnik, from using the service’s advertising mechanism. RT criticized the news, saying it was inconsistent with the US-based company’s multimillion-dollar offer of an exclusive ad campaign on Twitter to raise the news outlet’s presence during the 2016 election.

 
© Sputnik

Russian officials say RT is being targeted as part of a general anti-Russian “witch-hunt” in the US. Moscow denies any interference in the US election and says it was drawn into partisan strife in America that has nothing to do with Russia.

Executives from Google, Facebook and Twitter are expected to testify before the US Senate Judiciary Committee's panel on Crime and Terrorism on Wednesday, with more hearings scheduled with other Senate and House committees. The tech giants are to report to lawmakers on the results of their internal investigations into alleged use of their online services by the Russian government to influence the US election campaign.

Leaks from Facebook and Twitter testimonies reported this week imply that the scale of such alleged actions, as identified by the companies, was very small.

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Russian Senate Calls For Immediate End To US Blockade Of Cuba

The Federation Council (Russian Senate) called today for the immediate end to the economic, commercial and financial blockade of the United States against Cuba in a resolution passed by an overwhelming majority.

The resolution urges the States, the United Nations and its member countries, parliaments and international organizations, to echo the call for the lifting of the U.S. economic blockade lasting more than 50 years.

The resolution, presented by Sergey Kalashnikov, deputy chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Economic Policy and head of the cooperation group with the Cuban parliament, confirms the support given to a similar resolution passed in 2016.

'The U.S. blockade is a clear sign to the world of the United States' violation of international law, of disrespect for the States' sovereignty, regardless of whether it is a Republican or Democratic administration,' said the document.

The resolution said that the United States has long ignored the UN General Assembly resolutions against the blockade against Cuba, passed by an absolute majority, which isolates the United States from the rest of the international community.

The document indicates that the reestablishment of diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba, as well as the implementation of other measures of rapprochement, did not mean that the blockade was suspended, as it remains unchanged.

'The blockade against Cuba was far from achieving its objectives of changing the social or State system in Cuba,' said the statement.

'The sanctions taken by the United States against sovereign nations, which represent a way of punishing them for their domestic and foreign policies, are illegal and inadmissible,' said the resolution.

  • Published in Cuba

‘Defensive actions’? NATO launches new multinational force to counter Russia

NATO is launching a new multinational force in Romania to counter Russia along its eastern flank and keep close tabs on the Russian presence in the Black Sea. The chief of the military alliance said NATO’s actions are purely “defensive and proportionate.”

“Here in Romania, our multinational framework brigade is now operational,” Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in Bucharest on Monday, thanking Romania for hosting the brigade.

“We are also seeing increased allied presence in the Black Sea,” the alliance chief noted, adding that NATO jets are busy patrolling the skies over Romania and Bulgaria.

 
© Regis Duvignau

“Our deployments are a direct response to Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said, speaking at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in the Romanian capital.

“NATO’s actions are defensive, proportionate and entirely in line with our international commitments,” he concluded.

Stoltenberg went on to say that members of the alliance are “concerned by Russia’s military buildup close to our borders and its lack of transparency when it comes to military exercises such as Zapad 2017. This highlights the importance of our dual-track approach to Russia,” he said.

What the alliance chief said next, however, sounded more like a mantra.

“Russia is our neighbor. Russia is here to stay. We do not want to isolate Russia. NATO does not want a new Cold War. Our actions are designed to prevent, not provoke conflict.”

Details of the new force size are unclear. Once a small force relying on troops from 10 NATO countries, the land, air and sea deployments will complement some 900 US troops already in place, according to Reuters.

The land component of the multinational force is stationed at a base near the southern Romanian city of Craiova. Aside from Romania, Poland is the biggest troop contributor; Bulgaria, Italy and Portugal will train with the force in Craiova, while Germany is also set to contribute. Apart from routine NATO Black Sea naval patrols, a maritime presence will feature more allied visits to Romanian and Bulgarian ports, training and exercises.

 
U.S. army soldiers with their Stryker armoured fighting vehicle attend the final day of NATO Saber Strike exercises in Orzysz, Poland, June 16, 2017. © Ints Kalnins

Some Eastern Europeans reportedly want NATO's new ballistic missile defense shield, which includes a site in Romania, to be part of NATO's eastern posture vis-a-vis Russia.

"The Aegis Ashore system would add another level of deterrence," Maciej Kowalski, an analyst at the Polish Casimir Pulaski Foundation, told Reuters.

NATO’s military activities near the Russian border have been repeatedly criticized by Moscow, which has accused the alliance of undermining the security balance with its eastward encroachment and military provocations.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a speech at the UN General Assembly in New York last month that NATO is currently seeking to revive the Cold War climate instead of building a dialogue with Moscow. Russia has long been trying to remove the legacy of the Cold War but received no support in its efforts from its partners in the West, the minister noted, expressing regret that “some countries still prefer force to dialogue."

"The West constructed its policy on the basis of a principle, ‘If you are not with us, you are against us’ and proceeded with hideous expansion of NATO to the east,” Lavrov said.

 
© function.mil.ru

The Russian permanent representative to NATO, Aleksandr Grushko, meanwhile noted in July that NATO activities in Eastern Europe “not only ensure a reinforced military presence of the allies in the immediate vicinity of Russia’s borders but in fact represent an intensive mastering of the potential theater of military operations.”

Last month, Russia conducted the Zapad 2017 (West 2017) military drills, which took place on the territory of Russia and Belarus. The exercises involved about 12,700 servicemen, including up to 5,500 from Russia and about 7,200 from Belarus.

The drills caused hysteria in several countries neighboring Belarus, including Ukraine, with the country’s commander-in-chief, Viktor Muzhenko, claiming in an interview with Reuters that Russia had allegedly withdrawn only a few units from Belarus.

"As for the units of Russian troops who took part in the joint strategic ‘West 2017’ exercise, they all returned to the points of permanent deployment," Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov stated in September, adding that Muzhenko's allegations about "hidden" Russian troops in Belarus "demonstrate the depth of the degradation of the General Staff of Ukraine and the professional incompetence of its leader."

  • Published in World

Thousands evacuated from Moscow buildings as Russian cities inundated with bomb threats

Over 20 shopping centers, railway stations and universities had to be evacuated in Moscow, following warnings that they had been rigged with explosives. In total, 190 sites have been evacuated across 17 Russian cities after bomb threats, a security source told RIA news agency.

“This appears to be a case of telephone terrorism, but we have to check the credibility of these messages,” an emergency service source told Tass news agency, noting that the calls began at the same time, and continued after the evacuations had begun.

Tass reported that over 20,000 people had been affected by the evacuation in Moscow alone.

Emergency services said that police units including explosives specialists and officers with sniffer dogs are examining the buildings. Several later reported that police cordons had been lifted.

Among the locations affected are three of the capital's biggest railway stations, more than a dozen shopping centers – including GUM, located next to Red Square – and at least three universities, the leading First Moscow State Medical University, and the Moscow State Institute of International Relations among them.

Tass reported that the railway timetable remained unaffected by the police operation. Social media accounts show bemused crowds milling passively outside evacuated buildings, and there have been no reports of disturbances of public order.

President Vladimir Putin has been informed of the incidents, but his press secretary Dmitry Peskov said that he would not be commenting “as this is a matter for the security services to address.”

An epidemic of hoax bomb warnings has plagued Russia over the past week. Security services told the RIA news agency that over 45,000 people were evacuated from public places in 22 Russian cities on Tuesday, adding that many of the calls appeared to have come from Ukraine.

Terrorist false alarms are punishable by up to five years in prison under Russian law, and multiple police investigations have been opened.  However, the possibility that the hoaxers are using pre-recorded messages - as appears to be the case in earlier, identical messages - automated dialing systems and digital means of concealing their true location present difficulties in identifying the culprits.

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  • Published in World

Senate committee to interview Trump Jr. behind closed doors

Sept. 7 (UPI) -- Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee will privately interview Donald Trump, Jr., Thursday -- and are expected to ask about his meeting with a Russian lawyer in New York City during last year's presidential campaign.

Senators had sought to interview the president's son publicly in July but he instead offered to be privately interviewed and provide documents.

"We look forward to a professional and productive meeting and appreciate the opportunity to assist the committee," Trump, Jr.'s attorney, Alan S. Futerfas, said in a statement.

Last week, Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California issued a joint statement confirming the interview with the president's eldest son was imminent.

Trump, Jr., has acknowledged he met with a Russian lawyer -- who he said had damaging information about Democrat Hillary Clinton that could help his father's presidential campaign. He released emails this summer that showed it was "part of Russia and its government's support for [President Donald] Trump."

Also attending the meeting were Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, now a senior adviser to the president, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Kushner and Manafort have already been interviewed by the Senate Committee on Intelligence.

The Senate and House intelligence committees are investigating Russian election meddling and any ties to Trump's campaign, but the judiciary panel wants to investigate whether any federal criminal statutes that ban solicitation from foreign nationals were violated.

Feinstein told reporters Wednesday the committee staff will conduct the interview, and a public hearing will be conducted later. Feinstein said she doesn't plan to attend the interview.

Other committee members, including Democrats Dick Durbin of Illinois and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, said they plan to attend.

"There are penalties if he lies, and he presumably is aware that he is testifying with very severe penalties if he fails to tell the truth, so we presume he will," Blumenthal told reporters.

  • Published in World

Facebook scours $150k 'divisive ads' for links to Russia amid US election meddling claims

Facebook has targeted Russia in a review of ad purchases, searching for those which originated in Russia or used the Russian language from an IP address in the US - even though the ads "didn't necessarily violate any policy or law."

The social network released a statement on Wednesday, addressing claims that Russia had interfered in the US presidential election.

"There have been a lot of questions since the 2016 US election about Russian interference in the electoral process..." the site wrote.

 
© Heinz-Peter Bader

 

"One question that has emerged is whether there's a connection between Russian efforts and ads purchased on Facebook. These are serious claims and we've been reviewing a range of activity on our platform to help understand what happened."

Facebook claims that its review found that approximately $100,000 in ad spending from June 2015 to May 2017 – associated with roughly 3,000 ads – was "connected to about 470 inauthentic accounts and pages in violation of our policies."

It goes on to accuse Russia of being behind the "inauthentic accounts," stating that the analysis suggests the "accounts and Pages were affiliated with one another and likely operated out of Russia."

Following the analysis, the site shut down the accounts and pages that were still active, Facebook said, stressing that "we don't allow inauthentic accounts on Facebook."

However, the statement admits that the "vast majority of ads run by these accounts didn't specifically reference the US presidential election, voting, or a particular candidate."

Still, Facebook manages to perceive a connection: the ads, it says, focus on "amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum - touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights."

READ MORE: ‘No doubt’ US will try to meddle in 2018 Russian presidential election – foreign ministry

An unnamed Facebook employee went as far as to mention unspecified connections between the ads and something known as a "troll factory" in St. Petersburg, often mentioned by Western mainstream media as the source of Russian "propaganda" on social media.

Facebook's hunt for Russian misbehavior doesn't stop at "inauthentic ads." It also casts a wide net for legitimate ads originating in Russia – or even "those with very weak signals of a connection and not associated with any known organized effort."

 
© MIDRussia

 

That connection could be as tentative as language settings on the accounts that bought the ads: those with American IP addresses but set to Russian language, even though they "didn't necessarily violate any policy or law."

"In this part of our review, we found approximately $50,000 in potentially politically related ad spending on roughly 2,200 ads," the statement reads.

While admitting that its findings include ads which are perfectly legitimate both under federal law and its own guidelines, Facebook still shared the information "with US authorities investigating these issues."

It also briefed members of the Senate and House of Representatives intelligence committees on Wednesday about the suspected Russian advertising, Reuters reported, citing a congressional source familiar with the matter. Both committees are hunting for evidence of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including potential collusion between Moscow and Donald Trump's campaign.

Facebook also reportedly delivered its findings to Robert Mueller, the special counsel in charge of investigating the alleged Russian interference, a source told Reuters.

The social network's latest statement comes after Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, met with Facebook officials in July as part of the committee's investigation into Russia's alleged election interference. 

Meanwhile, there remains a complete lack of evidence that Russia interfered in the US presidential election or colluded with President Trump in any way - a point that has been reiterated numerous times by the US president himself.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called claims of Russian meddling "nonsense," and has accused the US of repeatedly interfering in Moscow's politics, "especially aggressively" in the 2012 presidential elections.

  • Published in World

Brazil v Russia & Argentina v Cuba in Men's U23 Top Four

Cairo, Egypt, August 23, 2017 - Undefeatd Brazil meet defending champions Russia and Argentina take on Cuba as the 2017 FIVB Volleyball Men's U23 World Champioship comes down to the semifinals on Thursday after a day of intense action here on Wednesday in desperate bids by teams to stay alive in the competition.

In Pool A Cuba did away with Mexico 4-1 (15-7, 15-9, 24-26, 15-13, 15-11) to claim the second qualifying ticket behind Brazil who had secured their semifinal spot a day earlier. Brazil themselves, wrapped up their pool play obligations with a 4-0 (15-9, 15-12, 15-7, 16-14) sweep of Japan.

But hosts Egypt were the sensation of the day as they knocked Poland out of the competition 4-1 (15-13, 15-7, 32-30, 13-15, 17-15) and remained alive to play another day - for positions 5-8.

In Pool B Argentina dismissed China 4-0 (15-8, 15-9, 15-9, 15-9) to secure their own semifinal ticket, and then found themselves at the top of the standings (thus avoiding Brazil in the semifinals) after Russia lost to Iran 4-3 (15-11, 12-15, 10-15, 15-13, 13-15, 20-18, 15-11) - though the defending champions had already secured their presence in the top four after going 3-2 up.

All matches in Cairo are played under a new scoring system currently being tested: a best-of-seven, 15-point set format.

Poland, Turkey, Mexico and Algeria are all out of the tournament, as the final ranking begins to take shape:

9. Poland
-. Turkey
11. Mexico
-. Algeria

All matches are available to watch live or on demand on the FIVB YouTube Channel.

Summary Statistics - 2017 FIVB Volleyball Men's U23 World Championship

Highest Scorer by Day
21 – Zhou Liying of China v Turkey on 18 August
29 – Hisham Ewais of Egypt v Cuba on 19 August
25 – Kenta Takanashi of Japan v Cuba on 20 August
23 – Kamil Semeniuk of Poland v Japan on 21 August
24 – Hisham Ewais of Egypt v Poland on 23 August

Top Scoring Performances
29 – Hisham Ewais of Egypt v Cuba on 19 August
25 – Kenta Takanashi of Japan v Cuba on 20 August
24 – Hisham Ewais of Egypt v Poland on 23 August
23 – Kamil Semeniuk of Poland v Japan on 21 August
22 – German Johansen of Argentina v Russia on 21 August

Top Individual Blocking Performances
6 – dogukan Ulu of Turkey v Algeria on 23 August
5 – Aleksei Kononov of Russia v Argentina on 21 August
5 – Ivan Iakovlev of Russia v Iran on 23 August
4 – ten players

Top Team Blocking Performances
16 – Russia v Iran on 23 August
14 – Russia v Argentina on 21 August
13 – Iran v Russia on 23 August
12 – Cuba v Egypt on 19 August
12 – Poland v Japan on 21 August
12 – Iran v Turkey on 21 August

Top Individual Serving Performances
3 – Romulo Silva of Brazil v Mexico on 18 August
3 – Sergei Pirainen of Russia v Algeria on 18 August
3 – Aleksei Kononov of Russia v Algeria on 18 August
3 – Masato Matsuoka of Japan v Mexico on 19 August
3 – Javad Karimisouchelmaei of Iran v China on 19 August
3 – Jakub Zwiech of Poland v Japan on 21 August

Top Team Serving Performances
11 – Egypt v Mexico on 21 August
10 – Brazil v Mexico on 18 August
9 – Russia v Algeria on 18 August
8 – China v Turkey on 18 August
7 – Poland v Mexico on 20 August

Highest Scoring Sets
32-30 Egypt v Poland (3rd set) on 23 August
26-24 Mexico v Cuba (3rd set) on 23 August
22-20 Brazil v Poland (2nd set) on 19 August
22-20 Brazil v Poland (3rd set) on 19 August
20-18 Egypt v Mexico (5th set) on 21 August
20-18 Iran v Russia (6th set) on 23 August

Highest Scoring Matches
198 – Iran v Russia 4-3 (15-11, 12-15, 10-15, 15-13, 13-15, 20-18, 15-11) on 23 August
189 – Russia v Argentina 4-3 (11-15, 15-12, 13-15, 15-13, 8-15, 15-12, 16-14) on 21 August
187 – China v Turkey 4-3 (19-17, 12-15, 11-15, 15-8, 15-10, 10-15, 15-10) on 18 August
184 – Brazil v Cuba 4-3 (13-15, 15-13, 1115, 11-15, 15-11, 15-8, 15-12) on 21 August
180 – Egypt v Japan 4-3 (15-10, 15-13, 12-15, 15-8, 9-15, 13-15, 15-10) on 18 August
180 – Cuba v Japan 4-2 (15-13 19-17, 14-16, 13-15, 16-14, 15-13) on 20 August
172 – Egypt v Poland 4-1 (15-13, 15-7, 32-30, 13-15, 17-15) on 23 August

  • Published in Sports
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