Facebook wants NYU researchers to stop sharing the political ad data it keeps secret

Facebook isn’t happy with New York University.

It’s because of NYU Ad Observatory, a newly launched research project from the university’s engineering school that aims to show how different election campaigns are spending their ad money on the site, and what kinds of voters they’re targeting. The research is gathered with help from a data-collecting browser extension.

Facebook let NYU know that the project, which is being driven by the work of more than 6,500 volunteers, runs afoul of the social network’s terms of service provision barring bulk data collection.  Word of the Oct. 16 letter comes via a Wall Street Journal report that ran late Friday.

“Scraping tools, no matter how well-intentioned, are not a permissible means of collecting information from us,” Facebook’s letter read. It goes on to threaten “additional enforcement action” if the project isn’t shut down, and if data that was already gathered isn’t deleted. 

It’s not clear what kind of enforcement actions are on the table, but a Facebook spokesperson told the WSJ that code could be changed to block the NYU browser extension. Though it’s also worth noting that, after the report published, Facebook clarified that it wouldn’t pursue any action until, in the newspaper’s words, “well after the election.”

Facebook may have been swayed in part by the political response to the WSJ report. Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar said in a statement that the social network’s stance of “making it harder for Americans to get information about political ads” in the middle of an election is “unacceptable.”

Facebook is notably on the hook for an upcoming Senate hearing in which tech executives will be grilled on misinformation, moderation, and bias in online spaces. There are also rumblings of a possible antitrust case brought by the government against Facebook.

The project, which hasn’t been taken down as of Oct. 24, offers a wealth of illuminating information on how campaigns are spending dollars to push ads across Facebook. The main page features top-level stats, just as the detail that almost 30 percent of Donald Trump’s Facebook ad spend attacks the media.

Things get even more interesting when you drill down into the different categories, though. You’re able to view what ad spending looks like at the national and state levels, but even better: You can zero in on individual Senate, House, and governor’s races. 

Not only do you see how much money each campaign is spending; you also get a breakdown of topics the ads for each candidate cover, the dollar amount going into each one, and the specifics of how ads are targeted toward each candidate’s hoped-for voters. It’s not necessarily comprehensive information, since it depends on how much data volunteers are able to gather. But it’s more transparency than Facebook has provided on the political ad spending hosted by the platform.

That may well change after the election. The NYU team has indicated that more transparency from Facebook would be the best way to halt the Ad Observatory project. And in its October letter to the university, Facebook said that it’s already set up an academic partnership that will study how the site impacted voters during the 2020 election.

White supremacists responsible for the majority of 2020 domestic terror attacks

The numbers are in.

White supremacists are responsible for the majority of terrorist plots and attacks that occurred during the first eight months of 2020, according to a recent report by the nonpartisan think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). 

Researchers found that white supremacists, anti-government extremists from the violent far-right, and involuntary celibates (incels) carried out 67 percent of all domestic terrorist plots and attacks. Far-left terrorists accounted for 20 percent of the plots and attacks. CSIS analyzed 61 incidents from Jan. 1, 2020 to Aug. 31, 2020.

Terrorism, the report states, is defined by “the deliberate use — or threat— of violence by non-state actors in order to achieve political goals and create a broad psychological impact.” 

So, incidents like hate crimes or protests and riots (like the racial justice demonstrations we saw this summer after the police killing of George Floyd) didn’t factor into the research. Though the researchers acknowledge hate crimes and terrorism can overlap, hate crimes aren’t always violent.

In protests for racial justice over the summer, far-right terrorists primarily targeted demonstrators. Some of their tactics included vehicle attacks, which were committed mostly by white supremacists or people who were against the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Far-left terrorist attacks went up in 2020, with four times as many in 2020 as in 2019. The number of far-right terrorist attacks stayed the same in 2019 vs. 2020.

Despite the violence, there were only five people who were killed (all by guns) during these domestic terrorist attacks. This is very low compared to past incidents, like the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people. 

But, the researchers warn, violence could rise over the next year due to political divides, the COVID-19 pandemic, worsening economic conditions, racial injustice, and other factors. 

NASA collected dust from asteroid Bennu. But now the material is leaking into space.

In case you missed the news, NASA pulled off a pretty complicated maneuver: It collected dust from the asteroid Bennu, a rock speeding through space some 200 million miles from Earth. 

In fact, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft did the job so well that an issue has cropped up since the collection on Tuesday. Some of the sample is leaking into space because a lid was jammed open by large bits of material. 

“The big concern now is that particles are escaping because we’re almost a victim of our own success,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona in Tucson, via CNN. “Large particles left the flap open. Particles are diffusing out into space. They aren’t moving fast, but nonetheless, it’s valuable scientific material.”

Four years after it launched, the spacecraft retrieved a tiny bit of Bennu on Tuesday in a process that took just 16 seconds.  

NASA has had to shift plans because of the leak. The agency intends to have the collection device stored in its return capsule as soon as Tuesday, opting to skip a step in which the sample would be measured. NASA knows it collected more than enough, but now won’t know the exact size of the collection until it reaches Earth in 2023.

“I was pretty concerned when I saw these images coming in, and I think the most prudent course of action is to very safely stow what we have and minimize any future mass loss,” Lauretta said, according to the Washington Post

Tuesday marked the first time NASA ever collected material from an asteroid. 

“Bennu continues to surprise us with great science and also throwing a few curveballs,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science, in a statement. “And although we may have to move more quickly to stow the sample, it’s not a bad problem to have. We are so excited to see what appears to be an abundant sample that will inspire science for decades beyond this historic moment.”

Bible verse warning against ‘religious masks’ exposed as Pope pictured with face covered

Pope Francis donned a white mask while he and other religious leaders prayed for peace around the world during the service at The Basilica of Santa Maria in Rome. Previously he had only worn a face covering during the journey to and from his weekly audiences in the Vatican and had received criticism as he regularly comes into close contact with visitors. The event took place as the number of people who have tested positive for the coronavirus has risen steadily in Italy in the past few weeks, recording 10,874 new coronavirus cases in the 24 hours before his appearance.


The 80-year-old took off his mask while he read his address, as did other leaders when they spoke, but put it back on when he finished speaking.

Amid the move, some have already pointed to a passage from the Gospel of Luke, which records a number of teachings and parables said to be told by Jesus Christ, but also appears to warn against “religious masks”.

Chapter 12 reads: “By this time the crowd, unwieldy and stepping on each other’s toes, numbered into the thousands.

“But Jesus’ primary concern was his disciples.

The Pope donned a face mask at an event for the first time

The Pope donned a face mask at an event for the first time (Image: GETTY)

The Pope attended an event on Tuesday

The Pope attended an event on Tuesday (Image: GETTY)

“He said to them: ‘Watch yourselves carefully so you don’t get contaminated with Pharisee yeast, Pharisee phoniness. You can’t keep your true self hidden forever, before long you’ll be exposed.

“‘You can’t hide behind a religious mask forever, sooner or later the mask will slip and your true face will be known.

“’You can’t whisper one thing in private and preach the opposite in public, the day’s coming when those whispers will be repeated all over town.’”

The chapter goes on to give more advice on how Jesus’ disciples should act.

It adds: “‘I’m speaking to you as dear friends.

READ MORE: End of the world: Pope’s vision for final days revealed as doomsday prophecy ‘fulfilled’

The Pontiff had been criticised for not wearing a mask

The Pontiff had been criticised for not wearing a mask (Image: GETTY)

“’Don’t be bluffed into silence or insincerity by the threats of religious bullies.

“’True, they can kill you, but then what can they do? There’s nothing they can do to your soul, your core being.

“’Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life – body and soul – in his hands.’”

The passage itself has been shared on social media numerous times, but others have also tweeted to explain why they will not be wearing a mask.

One stated: “God created me in his image and I will not be coerced into obstructing my God-given breath of life.

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The 80-year-old wore a white mask

The 80-year-old wore a white mask (Image: GETTY)

“The Bible says we should stand before God with our faces unveiled.”

Another added: “Read the Bible, when your time is up no mask will save you.”

A third claimed: ”Why does one need a mask in the open air?

“I’m pretty sure the fallen fought so we the people would not ever be forced, by government, to wear a mask.”

And a fourth stated: “No one needs a mask, we are free in Jesus, the Bible tells us do not be afraid.”

Some have shared a Bible verse warning against 'religious masks'

Some have shared a Bible verse warning against ‘religious masks’ (Image: GETTY)

Many others online seemed to disagree, sharing Matthew 22:39, which states: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” in a reference to protecting the vulnerable who may be more susceptible to the virus.

The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people cover their face in public settings where social distancing is not practical.

The idea is that masks could help keep people with coronavirus infections from spreading the virus when they speak.

The World Health Organisation says masks are a “key measure” in suppressing the spread of COVID-19 and saving lives.

The CDC and WHO advise to wear masks

The CDC and WHO advise to wear masks (Image: GETTY)

In a statement, it said: “Wear a mask, especially when you can’t physically distance, to limit the risk of getting COVID-19.

“People wearing masks are protected from getting infected. Masks also prevent onward transmission when worn by a person who is infected, whether they have symptoms or not.  

“Most people should wear fabric masks. Medical masks are recommended for certain groups, including people aged 60 or over and those with underlying health conditions, as they are more likely to become seriously ill with COVID-19.

“Masks should be used as part of a comprehensive ‘Do it all’ approach including physical distancing, avoiding crowded, closed and close-contact settings, improving ventilation, cleaning hands, covering sneezes and coughs, and more.”

UFOs seen leaving the Sun PROOF of Hollow Sun Theory – claim

While scientists state categorically that the Sun is essentially a giant ball of fire which provides heat to the solar system, conspiracy theorists have other bizarre ideas. Videos from NASA have shown what appears to be two objects exiting the Sun.

This has led conspiracy theorists to believe that the Sun is hollow, and aliens are residing in it.

The footage from NASA was taken by NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) satellite and appears to show objects leaving the surface of the Sun.

Prominent alien enthusiast Scott C Waring claimed it is “100 percent” proof that extraterrestrials are residing inside our host star.

Mr Waring made the extraordinary claims on his blog UFO Sightings Daily, where he explained his belief there are small planets inside the Sun which aliens live on.

The conspiracy theorist said: “Today I found two [UFOs leaving the Sun]!

“One entering our sun and one exiting our Sun. This does reinforce my Hollow Sun Theory.

“A theory that says there is a whole mini solar system of mini moon size planets within our Sun.

“One shot in from far away, only to disappear, the other shot out of the side of the Sun during a solar explosion.

READ MORE: Experts expose hoax footage of ‘white disk’ UFO over South Korea

Afterlife consists of flying through the Universe – stunning Near Death Experience claim

A person known as Lee was temporarily but clinically dead – which is the cessation of the heart or breathing – and believes he saw a glimpse of the afterlife. Instead of rolling meadows or fluffy white clouds, Lee claims the afterlife consists of zooming through the Universe.

Lee suffered his near death experience after slipping into a diabetic induced coma, and now believes he has a greater understanding of the cosmos.

Writing on the Near Death Experience Research Foundation, Lee said: “I instantly shot out of my body, but I was not above myself.

“It was as if I was some kind of energy, and I was flying away from earth. Then it seemed as if I was flying away from the solar system.

“Then I started flying away faster and I saw bunches of stars as if they were galaxies flying away from me.


Afterlife consists of flying through the Universe – stunning Near Death Experience claim (Image: GETTY)


“I instantly shot out of my body, but I was not above myself.” (Image: GETTY)

“Then they seemed to be bunching together into huge packs as if they were separate universes or something like that.

“It was as if there was a force or energy out there way bigger than anything we know, and I had an enormous sense of understanding the meaning of life, that’s when I seemed to shoot back at a phenomenal speed!

“As it was happening, I remember feeling very excited and thinking to myself ‘So that’s why we are here!’.

“And it was so real, but my understanding was not explained to me.

READ MORE: Near death experience: Woman sees entire history of the Universe


Lee believes he saw the Universe (Image: GETTY)

“Due to this experience, my view on life after death goes somewhere way beyond planet earth and our energy possibly passes to another dimension or a different universe.”

While Lee believes he saw the afterlife, scientists believe near death experiences such as this are a result of a surge of brain activity as one approaches death.

Researchers from the University of Michigan clinically induced cardiac arrest in rats while simultaneously monitoring their brain activity.

They were stunned to discover brain activity surged in the final 30 seconds of their life.


Scientists believe near death experiences such as this are a result of a surge of brain activity as one approaches death. (Image: GETTY)

Jimo Borjigin, PhD, associate professor of molecular and integrative physiology and associate professor of neurology, said: “This study, performed in animals, is the first dealing with what happens to the neurophysiological state of the dying brain.

“We reasoned that if near-death experience stems from brain activity, neural correlates of consciousness should be identifiable in humans or animals even after the cessation of cerebral blood flow.”

Essentially, if the brain is more active, one might have vivid visions, leading them to believe they had seen the afterlife.

Dr Borjigin added: “The prediction that we would find some signs of conscious activity in the brain during cardiac arrest was confirmed with the data.”

James Randi, Famed Magician And Skeptic, Dies At 92

James Randi, a magician who later challenged spoon benders, mind readers and faith healers with such voracity that he became regarded as the country’s foremost skeptic, has died, his foundation announced. He was 92.

The James Randi Educational Foundation confirmed the death, saying simply that its founder succumbed to “age-related causes” on Tuesday.

James Randi targeted those he saw as frauds with a tenacity and dedication he admitted was an obsession.

Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

James Randi targeted those he saw as frauds with a tenacity and dedication he admitted was an obsession.

Entertainer, genius, debunker, atheist ̶ Randi was them all. He began gaining attention not long after dropping out of high school to join the carnival. As the Amazing Randi, he escaped from a locked coffin submerged in water and from a straitjacket as he dangled over Niagara Falls.

Magical as his feats seemed, Randi concluded his shows around the globe with a simple statement, insisting no otherworldly powers were at play.

“Everything you have seen here is tricks,” he would say. “There is nothing supernatural involved.”

The magician’s transparency gave a glimpse of what would become his longest-running act, as the country’s skeptic-in-chief. In that role, his first widely seen exploit was also his most enduring.

On a 1972 episode of “The Tonight Show,” he helped Johnny Carson set up Uri Geller, the Israeli performer who claimed to bend spoons with his mind. Randi ensured the spoons and other props were kept from Geller’s hands until showtime to prevent any tampering.

The result was an agonizing 22 minutes in which Geller was unable to perform any tricks.

Randi had bushy white eyebrows and beard, a bald head, and gold-rimmed glasses, and bounced his 5-foot-6 (1.6 meter) frame energetically, even in his final years. He sought to disprove not just those who read palms and minds, but chiropractors, homeopaths and others he saw as predators seeking innocent people’s money.

Randi targeted those he saw as frauds with a tenacity and dedication he admitted was an obsession. His efforts were reminiscent of those of his great predecessor Harry Houdini, who devoted large portions of his time to debunking spiritualists and their seances.

“I see people being swindled every day by medical quackery, frauds of every sort, psychics and their hot lines, people who claim to be able to find lost children or to help them invest their money,” Randi told The Associated Press in 1998. “I know they are being swindled because I know the methods being used.”

Once, awaiting the chance to sift through the trash of a faith healer, Randi spent days in his car, eating Twinkies and drinking Pepsi.

“I suffer from this obsession that I have something important to do,” he explained in a 2007 interview with The AP.

There were other coups for Randi: He once showed the messages television faith healer Peter Popoff claimed to be getting from God about his audience were actually coming from his wife through an earpiece. But the vast majority of those he aimed to show were frauds were lesser known, lured to prove their abilities by the James Randi Educational Foundation.

Through that organization, Randi was guardian of a $1 million prize he promised to give anyone who could prove either their own supernatural powers or the presence of a supernatural being.

His loudest detractors said they didn’t believe the money even existed, but Randi had the bank documentation. No one ever came close to collecting.

Randi gave up the day-to-day operation of his foundation in 2009 and retired in 2015.

Born Randall James Hamilton Zwinge in Toronto on Aug. 7, 1928, Randi ̶ known by everyone simply by that surname ̶ had a nagging desire to question from a young age. Academically, he said he was bored in school and teachers acknowledged he was prodigy far ahead of his peers. He never earned a high school diploma or went to college but in 1986 was awarded a prestigious MacArthur fellowship, often known simply as a “genius grant.”

He spoke with certainty. While he said he never really questioned his beliefs, he acknowledged there was always a chance he was wrong.

“I am probably right. But I’m always only probably right,” he said. “Absolutes are very hard to find.”

For all the analysis Randi put into seemingly everything, he still found delight in observing magic he knew was a stunt or watching a film that was just fantasy. He talked about the crushing feelings of watching a friend die and spoke of the magic of love. In 2010, he announced he was gay. In 2013, he married his longtime partner, Deyvi Pena, at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. He was the subject of a 2014 documentary, “An Honest Liar.”

Penn Jillette, a magician in the mold of Randi, mourned his friend on Twitter on Wednesday night, writing: “We will never forget that without Randi, there would not be Penn & Teller. It’s really that simple.”

Randi said he couldn’t help feeling angry that his targets always seemed to perform escape acts of their own, continuing to win new followers and earn checks he said were cashed at reality’s expense. He wanted to see frauds punished, but he recognized most people wanted to believe.

“The true believers,” he said, “will not pay any attention to evidence that does not show that they believe to be untrue.”

It was frustrating to Randi and fueled an underlying anger toward those he labeled frauds. When he let his displeasure slip out, though, it often was mixed with wit, as when asked about his final wishes and how he’d like his ashes disposed.

“My best friend is instructed to throw them in Uri Geller’s eyes,” he said. “I’d like him to get an eyeful of my ashes. I think that would be appropriate.”

The day of death has been corrected to Tuesday, not Monday.

Harry Reid Confirms Federal Government Covered Up UFOs For Years

Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said the U.S. government has been hiding key details about UFOs for years. 

“Why the federal government all these years has covered up, put brake pads on everything, stopped it, I think it’s very, very bad for our country,” Reid said in the new documentary “The Phenomenon” from director James Fox. 

“Are you saying that there’s some evidence that still hasn’t seen the light of day?” asked Fox. 

“I’m saying most of it hasn’t seen the light of day,” Reid replied. 

The film examines the history of UFO sightings in the United States and abroad, including new details about the military-confirmed encounters off the coast involving U.S. Navy pilots. It also details a 1967 report in which an object appeared over a U.S. missile base at the same time 10 of the missiles became inoperative. 

“If they had been called upon by the president to launch, they couldn’t have done it,” Reid said in the film. 

Reid, who was among the lawmakers behind a classified but since-closed U.S. government UFO program, has become increasingly outspoken about the phenomena since leaving office. However, he stopped short of confirming evidence of other-worldly activity, writing in August on Twitter that he wants the issue studied and that “we must stick to science, not fairy tales about little green men.”

He repeated that point of view in the new film. 

“Nobody has to agree why it’s there. But should we at least be spending some money to study all these phenomenon?” he asked. “The answer is ‘yes.’” 

UFO expert Lee Speigel, a former HuffPost reporter, served as a co-writer and co-producer on the film, which he said took seven years to come to fruition. 

“Whether you’re a UFO ‘believer’ or debunker, those in-between or still undecided, it’s important to present accurate information that potentially affects the national security of all nations and the safety of all citizens of our planet,” Spiegel said. 

The Phenomenon” is currently available via VOD.

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Americans asked Google a bunch of unintentionally funny election questions this week

After a wild week with dueling presidential town hall events and a Supreme Court nominee push only weeks before the election, our Google searches were pretty wide-ranging and involved some scandals and gossip. 

For the week of Oct. 15 to Oct. 23 here were some of the top questions for Google’s search engine. 

1. Who is Jeffrey Toobin?

When Zoom and an “accidental” exposure/masturbation incident collide, people want to know the details. Political commenter and contributor to CNN and The New Yorker Jeffrey Toobin was on a work call with the New Yorker and WNYC radio when, he later said, he thought he was off camera, so he got to some pressing, uh, personal business. He wasn’t. Now the magazine has suspended him and CNN has given him some time off.

 2. Who is Corn Pop?

“Corn Pop” came up most recently in 2017 when now Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden talked about a gang leader he confronted when he was a 19-year-old lifeguard in Delaware. That gang leader’s name was actually Corn Pop, like the cereal. This past week, amid final town halls and debates as voters head to the polls, Corn Pop is resurfacing in political commentary as Biden’s true nemesis that he has to confront. Biden has a tendency to go on long tangents and tell stories about the past and this one always raises some eyebrows.

3. Who is Savannah Guthrie married to?

Savannah Guthrie is a TODAY show anchor on NBC who moderated last week’s Donald Trump town hall. For an hour at an outdoor venue in Miami she managed to take on Trump. As for her spouse, he’s 52-year-old Michael Feldman. They’ve been married for 11 years and have two children together.

4. What is the crime bill?

At Joe Biden’s own town hall over on ABC with George Stephanopoulos at the exact same time as Trump’s, one voter asked him about his legislation as a senator, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (known as the 1994 crime bill or law).  

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During the town hall Biden defended the controversial bill, but admitted some parts of it were a “mistake.”

5. What are the five freedoms of the First Amendment?

After Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett couldn’t remember all five freedoms in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution when asked at her confirmation hearing last week, we’re trying to list all five. 

She remembered speech, press, religion and assembly, but couldn’t recall “protest.”