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July 31, 2018

Facebook said Tuesday that it has identified a coordinated effort to influence the upcoming midterm elections, with a network of fraudulent accounts that are spreading divisive content in an attempt to interfere with national politics.

The company said it removed 32 accounts that "went to much greater lengths to obscure their true identities" than the platform previously saw with Russia's Internet Research Agency. More than 290,000 accounts followed at least one of the 32 pages, and they had created more than 9,500 posts since last year.

It's still unclear whether the newly-uncovered accounts are tied to Russia, reports The New York Times, but the pages paid for $11,000 in political ads in both U.S. and Canadian dollars. Facebook is working with the FBI to tamp down on the interference and investigate the ongoing activity. Read more at The New York Times. Summer Meza

7:29 a.m.

With great Spider-Man movies comes great box office returns.

Sony's Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse topped the box office this weekend with a solid $35 million debut, per Box Office Mojo. This was slightly below projections that pegged it closer to $42 million, but still a fine start for the animated flick, which critics have hailed as one of the best movies ever to feature Marvel's iconic web-slinger.

Sony hopes the movie will attract crowds during the lucrative holiday season, but it will face some tough competition. The 2018 holiday season is among the most competitive in years, with Mary Poppins Returns, Bumblebee, and Aquaman all opening shortly before Christmas.

Clint Eastwood's The Mule also performed well this weekend with a $17 million haul. That's a stronger start than Eastwood's last film, The 15:17 to Paris, although not as strong as Sully's $35 million debut. The film should be able to appeal to those looking for more adult-oriented fare over the holiday break; per The Hollywood Reporter, more than half its audience this weekend was over 50.

On the other hand, Universal Pictures' Mortal Engines' opening was a disaster. The fantasy film based on the popular young adult novel had an embarrassing debut of just $7 million, coming in fifth place behind movies that have been out for well over a month, like The Grinch. Mortal Engines reportedly cost more than $100 million to make, and it's expected to lose the studio about that much, per Deadline. When all is said and done, it may end up being the very biggest box office bomb of 2018. Brendan Morrow

2:09 a.m.

Nearly 21 percent of high school seniors say they vaped within the past 30 days, up from 11 percent one year ago, a new survey out Monday says.

The Monitoring the Future survey has been in existence for 44 years, asking teenagers whether they use drugs, drink alcohol, or smoke, and this was the most dramatic spike in its history. The survey is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and its director, Nora Volkow, said the report is "very worrisome. We are very concerned about the increase in vaping."

Vapors from e-cigarettes contain high levels of nicotine, and doctors fret about how this affects brains that are still developing. The survey also found that more teens now believe that they are simply breathing in flavors when they vape, not understanding that they are indeed inhaling nicotine. Catherine Garcia

1:32 a.m.

The winner of the 2018 Miss Universe pageant is Miss Philippines Catriona Gray.

The 24-year-old was crowned the winner Sunday night in Bangkok. She defeated 93 other contestants, including first runner-up Miss South Africa Tamaryn Green and second runner-up Miss Venezuela Sthefany Gutierrez. This was the first year that the selection committee was comprised solely of women.

Born in Australia, Gray entered her first pageant at age five, and studied music at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Catherine Garcia

12:56 a.m.

Since Wednesday, thousands of demonstrators have filled the streets of Budapest at night, protesting against Viktor Orban, the country's right-wing prime minister, and new laws ushered in by his Fidesz party.

Sunday's protest was the largest, with at least 10,000 people gathering to walk from Heroes' Square to parliament. During the spring election, Fidesz received 49 percent of the popular vote, but the party changed the rules so its lawmakers control two-thirds of the parliament. On Wednesday, Fidesz lawmakers approved a measure that critics have dubbed the "slave law," which lets employers ask staffers to work up to 400 hours in overtime every year. Under the law, the overtime payments could be postponed for up to three years.

Even Orban's own supporters don't agree with the law, with a new Republikon Institute poll showing that 63 percent disapprove. The protests are being organized by unions, students, and opposition parties. In addition to the law being changed, these demonstrators are calling for a free press and an independent judiciary. The protesters have been peaceful, Reuters reports, but police officers still fired tear gas into the crowd on Sunday night. Catherine Garcia

December 16, 2018

Janet Fein celebrated her retirement at age 77 by going back to college.

In 2012, Fein retired from her job as a secretary at an orthopedic hospital in Dallas, and immediately enrolled in classes at the University of Texas at Dallas. "I didn't have anything to do in retirement and I didn't think that playing bingo was up to my speed," she told The Associated Press. Fein, now 84, loved writing papers and doing homework, and didn't let anything get in her way — she kept up with everything even as she moved into an assisted living facility and had to start using a walker and oxygen tank.

This week, Fein will receive her bachelor's degree in sociology. Through a state program, Texans 65 and older can take up to six credits per semester at a public university for free, and last year, about 2,000 people participated, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board said. Fein believes in the importance of learning — after raising her five kids, she took classes for 20 years and received her associate's degree in 1995 — and has inspired one of her caregivers, Renee Brown, to go back to school at 53 to become a licensed vocational nurse. "She said, 'Renee, you can do it. If I can do it you can do it and you will feel so good about it,'" Brown told AP. Catherine Garcia

December 16, 2018

Colin Kroll, the co-founder of Vine and HQ Trivia, was found dead Sunday inside his New York City apartment. He was 34.

Kroll was discovered by police officers after his girlfriend called and asked for a wellness check, CNN reports. The cause of death has not yet been determined.

HQ Trivia, a trivia game app, was launched in 2017. Kroll became CEO of HQ Trivia's parent company, Intermedia Labs, earlier this year after his business partner Rus Yusupov was forced out, Recode reports. Recently, Kroll was accused by an HQ Trivia employee of "inappropriate and unprofessional behavior;" the matter was investigated and "yielded no concerns," the company told Recode. Catherine Garcia

December 16, 2018

A new report prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee, the first to study millions of posts from the 2016 presidential campaign provided by Facebook, Twitter, and Google, says that Russians working at the Internet Research Agency posted on every major social media platform photos, videos, and messages to help get President Trump elected, and continued the effort to support him once in office, The Washington Post reports.

The Post obtained a draft of the report, compiled by Oxford University's Computational Propaganda Project. Researchers found that at certain points, like during presidential debates, disinformation campaigns ramped up, with different groups receiving targeted messages: for example, conservatives saw posts about gun rights, while black voters saw false information about how to vote.

"What is clear is that all of the messaging clearly sought to benefit the Republican Party — and specifically Donald Trump," the report says. "Trump is mentioned most in campaigns targeting conservatives and right-wing voters, where the messaging encouraged those groups to support his campaign. The main groups that could challenge Trump were then provided messaging that sought to confuse, distract, and ultimately discourage members from voting."

The tech companies were all extremely slow to realize what was going on, the report says, even though the Russians slipped up several times, like paying for ads with rubles. Social media, the report states, went from a "natural infrastructure for sharing collective grievances and coordinating civic engagement to being a computational tool for social control, manipulated by canny political consultants and available to politicians in democracies and dictatorships alike." Read more about the report at The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia

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