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Facebook and Instagram ban 135 Russian troll accounts over meddling

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Facebook has identified and removed 135 accounts linked to a Russian influence campaign during the US presidential election.

After “months of work”, the social network said it has banned 70 Facebook and 65 Instagram accounts – alongside 138 Facebook pages – which were controlled by the Internet Research Agency (IRA), an organisation based in St Petersburg.

Alongside 13 Russian nationals, the IRA was charged with interfering in US politics in February. Its activities form a core part of allegations regarding Russian interference during the 2016 race.

Although the pages taken down do not seem to be substantially connected to that influence campaign, the company said they did run advertisements which have now also been removed.

According to Facebook, roughly 95% of the pages that had content were in Russian, and were targeted at people in Russia or “neighbouring countries like Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine”.

:: Facebook – “Russia used us as an ‘information weapon”

Facebook offered an infographic regarding the Internet Research Agency
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Facebook offered an infographic regarding the Internet Research Agency

The identification of the troll accounts comes more than two months after Twitter announced that it had identified about 4,000 accounts on its platform which had interacted with 1.4 million users.

Last year, Facebook told the US Congress that Kremlin-linked trolls had reached 126 million Americans through disinformation operations conducted on its platform.

To combat this, the company said it would make advertising more transparent by “creating a portal” which would let its users know if they interacted with IRA pages or accounts on Facebook and Instagram.

This portal has not yet launched, but the company’s statement adds that its help centre tool would be updated “in the next few weeks… so anyone can check if they liked or followed” an IRA account or page.

Facebook stated: “The IRA has consistently used inauthentic accounts to deceive and manipulate people. It’s why we remove every account we find that is linked to the organisation – whether linked to activity in the US, Russia or elsewhere.

“We know that the IRA – and other bad actors seeking to abuse Facebook – are always changing their tactics to hide from our security team.

“We expect we will find more, and if we do we will take them down too. But we’ll keep fighting and we’re investing heavily in more people and better technology to constantly improve safety on Facebook.”

:: US Congress reveals Russian trolls’ Facebook propaganda

A sample of the posts on Facebook
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A sample of the IRA-linked posts and pages on Facebook

The statement, written by Facebook’s chief security officer, Alex Stamos, follows a difficult month for the company’s public image.

Following allegations that data belonging to its users was harvested by Cambridge Analytica, the company’s senior executives have been summoned to appear before MPs in the UK and Congress in the US.

The scandal saw its share price fall by more than 15% – wiping tens of billions from its valuation and igniting criticism of Mark Zuckerberg’s delayed response.

In the US, the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election is also ongoing.

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La Palma volcano: What caused it to explode and how long could the eruption last? | World News

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A volcano that erupted on the Spanish island of La Palma in the Canary Islands is continuing to explode and spew out lava five days after it erupted.

Unstoppable lava flows have destroyed nearly 400 buildings on the western side of the volcanic island of 85,000 people and the authorities have warned of new dangers including toxic gases, volcanic ash and acid rain.

Where is the volcano in La Palma?

A map shows the location of the Cumbre Vieja eruption and the flow of lava
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A map shows the location of the Cumbre Vieja eruption and the flow of lava
LA PALMA Canary Islands  MAP
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A map of the volcanic activity on La Palma. Credit: Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System

The volcano erupted along the Cumbre Vieja volcanic ridge in La Palma, one of eight volcanic islands in Spain’s Canary Islands archipelago, which sit off the northwestern coast of Africa.

The Canary Islands are popular with European tourists and the nearby island of Tenerife has one of the world’s tallest volcanoes, Mount Teide.

La Palma island itself is made up of two main volcanic complexes: a large one to the north and a smaller one to the south, which erupted on Sunday. The island last saw an eruption in 1971.

How did scientists know the eruption was coming?

More on La Palma Volcano Eruption

Scientists had been monitoring a build-up of underground magma beneath La Palma for a week before the eruption and were able to warn of a possible eruption, allowing nearly 7,000 people to evacuate.

They had detected more than 20,000 earthquakes in an “earthquake swarm” which can indicate a coming eruption.

What caused the volcano to erupt?

Copernicus Sentinel-2 image shows the eruption of a volcano in the Cumbre Vieja national park, on the Canary Island of La Palma
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Copernicus Sentinel-2 image shows the eruption of the volcano in the Cumbre Vieja national park
Lava spews from the Cumbre Vieja volcano in La Palma, Spain
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Lava spews from the Cumbre Vieja volcano

Three days before the volcano erupted, the Canary Islands Volcanology Institute reported that 11 million cubic metres (388 million cubic feet) of molten rock had been pushed into the volcano.

Professor David Pyle, a volcanologist at the University of Oxford, told Sky News: “Magma is generated within Earth’s mantle and below La Palma that magma is probably being generated continuously at depths of 100km or so. Every now and then those magmas will collect and break through, pushing up into the shallow parts of the Earth’s crust.

“When the latest swarm of earthquakes started a week before the eruption began, scientists recognised they were happening at a shallower depth than they had seen in previous years.

“They were able to look at satellite images which showed deformation of the surface and they were very confident that from these they could recognise the movement of magma towards the surface.”

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Lava from the volcano is destroying and burying homes, leaving thousands devastated

A 4.2-magnitude earthquake was recorded before the eruption, which saw two fissures open up and bright red magma bubble up into the air.

How has the eruption developed?

Earthquakes have continued and a new fissure opened on Monday following a 3.8-magnitude quake. Scientists have warned that new lava vents and cracks could emerge, putting new areas at risk.

Lava covers more than 180 hectares on the island of La Palma and destroys 390 buildings
PIC:AP
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Lava erupts from the Cumbre Vieja volcanic ridge. Pic: AP

Prof Pyle said scientists will now be measuring the amount of gas escaping from the volcano, checking whether the composition of magma changes over time and measuring the quantity of material that is being expelled to see how quickly the volcano is erupting.

“With these they will be forming an expert judgement in terms of what the trajectory is looking like in terms of the eruption, whether it is waxing or waning,” he said.

“In this crisis they are deploying all the tools they can to try and work out what is changing during the eruption. And that will give them the clues in terms of whether or not to expect the activity to last for days, or weeks, or months.”

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Scientists say the volcanic eruption could continue until December

Officials in La Palma have recorded 1,130 tremors in the area over the past week as the volcano blasted molten lava into the air.

The explosions have propelled ash almost 15,000ft into the air, according to the Guardia Civil police force. Two rivers of lava have flowed slowly down the hillside, consuming houses, banana farms and infrastructure.

How long could the eruption last?

Residents look from a hill as the lava from a volcano eruption flows on the island of La Palma in the Canaries, Spain
PIC:AP
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Residents look on from a hill as lava from the volcano flows. Pic: AP

Scientists are unclear about how long the eruption could last, with estimates ranging between weeks and even months.

The previous eruption in 1971 lasted for just over three weeks. The last eruption in the Canary Islands happened underwater off the coast of El Hierro island in 2011 and lasted for five months.

Professor Mike Burton, a volcanologist at the University of Manchester, told Sky News that while scientists were able to predict the eruption, knowing how long it could last was “the tricky bit”.

Lava from a volcano eruption flows in El Paso, on the Canary Island of La Palma, Spain, September 23, 2021.
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Lava has surrounded houses in El Paso

“It’s great that we can see when something like this is coming, but once it has started it is quite hard to be clear about how it is going to evolve.

“I think the best thing we can do is watch and look for signs of waxing and waning, increasing and decreasing activity.

“The last eruption went on for about three months, but every eruption is different. This one appears to have started with a higher lava eruption rate than the 1971 eruption, so already it seems to be more powerfully supplied.

“That might mean it goes on much longer, but you have to be cautious about making any deterministic predictions. We really need to wait and see what nature does.”

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Elon Musk and Grimes split up after three years together but ‘remain on great terms’ | Ents & Arts News

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Elon Musk and Grimes have split up after three years together, according to reports.

Musk, who is the founder of SpaceX and Tesla, confirmed to Page Six that he and the Canadian singer are semi-separate but on good terms.

The 50-year-old added that they will continue to co-parent their one-year-old son, X Æ A-Xii Musk.

Elon Musk and his newborn. Pic: @elonmusk/Twitter
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Elon Musk and Grimes welcomed their first child in May 2020. Pic: @elonmusk/Twitter

“We are semi-separated but still love each other, see each other frequently and are on great terms,” Musk told Page Six.

“It’s mostly that my work at SpaceX and Tesla requires me to be primarily in Texas or travelling overseas, and her work is primarily in LA. She’s staying with me now, and Baby X is in the adjacent room.”

The pair started dated in May 2018 and welcomed their first son two years later.

They were last seen together at the Met Gala on 13 September, when Grimes, 33, walked on the red carpet alone and Musk joined her inside.

Grimes joined Musk at a Met Gala after-party, which he was hosting, and the duo were seen leaving New York together the next day.

Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala - Met Gala - In America: A Lexicon of Fashion - Arrivals - New York City, U.S. - September 13, 2021. Grimes. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
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Grimes walked on the red carpet alone at the Met Gala on 13 September but was joined by Elon Musk inside

Musk was previously married to author Justine Wilson, with whom he has five sons – 17-year-old twins Griffin and Xavier, and triplets Damian, Saxon and Kai, aged 15.

He has also been married twice to Westworld actress Talulah Riley, and dated Amber Heard for a year.

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Mozambique: Rwandan troops have swift impact on the ground as they help fight Islamist insurgents | World News

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In northern Mozambique, the country’s weary-looking soldiers can be seen on the roadside, walking about with ancient-looking AK-47 rifles slung on their shoulders.

They have access to a couple of armoured vehicles in the war-torn province of Cabo Delgado, but their vehicles date from an earlier era and have clearly suffered from decades of over-use.

Yet Rwanda’s Defence Force (RDF), now helping the Mozambicans deal with a nasty, three-year Islamist insurgency, is a very different proposition.

Colonel Ronald Rwivanga said Rwanda's mission in Mozambique was "open-ended", yet they cannot stay forever
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An army spokesman said Rwanda’s mission was “open-ended”, yet the troops cannot stay forever

As members of a small journalist contingent embedded with the Rwandans, we raced past their Mozambican partners in fully-armed troops trucks and steel-plated personnel carriers as the men on the roadside looked wistfully on.

“You can see, they don’t have very much,” said one Rwandan soldier as we looked on from our speeding vehicle.

More than 1,000 Rwandan troops were sent to Mozambique at the beginning of July as the leaders of other southern African states began to sweat and fret about this conflict.

Cabo Delgado is isolated, impoverished and generally ignored by the country’s political elite and the insurgents have discovered that the region’s towns and villages are excellent places to recruit.

The militants call themselves “Ansar al-Sunna” and form one of a growing number of groups across Africa that have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

Rwanda's Defence Force (RDF) are now helping the Mozambicans deal with a nasty, three-year Islamic insurgency
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Shops, homes and churches have been destroyed or badly damaged

Furthermore, their members have demonstrated a similar ability to generate and spread terror with near-constant reports of beheadings, executions and mass kidnappings.

Over the course of the past few days, our contacts reported attacks, abductions and beheadings in places like Quissanga, Quionga and Naharunga – small parts of a vast area that have already been largely depopulated at the hands of the militants.

Aid agencies estimate that around 800,000 people have been driven from their homes with tens of thousands living in poorly-equipped camps in the southern part of the province.

Since 2015, the country has faced an ongoing insurgency by Islamist groups
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Since 2015, the country has faced an ongoing insurgency by Islamist groups

Still, as the RDF’s press team are keen to remind us, their well-trained and well-equipped forces have had an almost immediate impact on the ground.

It only took a couple of weeks to secure the Alfungi Penisula, where energy giant Total has been building a natural gas mega-project.

The Rwandans made the French firm’s facility their headquarters, then moved down the coast, reclaiming the key port of Mocimboa da Praia at the beginning of August.

The airport in Mocombia de Praia has been trashed  during the fighting
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The airport in Mocimboa de Praia has been trashed during the fighting

We toured the city and found it – like most communities in Cabo Delgado – to be largely deserted.

Shops, homes and the local church had been destroyed or badly damaged and the port area was an utter mess, demonstrating the insurgents’ talent for destruction over civic administration.

The Rwandans took us over to the airport, which has also been trashed and laid out a huge stockpile of arms which they said had been seized from the militants in Mocimboa de Praia.

Mozambique's forces have access to a couple of armoured vehicles and ancient-looking AK-47 rifles  in the province of Cabo Delgado
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The Rwandans laid out a huge stockpile of arms which they said had been seized from the militants in Mocimboa de Praia

Their spokesman could not – or would not say where the guns and rocket launchers had come from – but it is highly likely they were plundered from the Mozambican military as their men retreated – or fled – during earlier phases of the conflict.

Still, there is a new army in town and their spokesman, Colonel Ronald Rwivanga, told me their mission was “open-ended” – they are prepared to stay, he said, “because it is the right thing to do”.

Yet we know the Rwandans cannot remain here forever and their temporary presence here will not address the various causes of this crisis which are rooted in the complicated business of poor governance and basic services.

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