News briefs for November 5

Did social media actually counter election misinformation?

Ahead of the election, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube promised to clamp down on election misinformation, including unsubstantiated charges of fraud and premature declarations of victory by candidates. And they mostly did just that — though not without a few hiccups.

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But overall their measures still didn’t really address the problems exposed by the 2020 U.S. presidential contest, critics of the social platforms contend.

“We’re seeing exactly what we expected, which is not enough, especially in the case of Facebook,” said Shannon McGregor, an assistant professor of journalism and media at the University of North Carolina.

One big test emerged early Wednesday morning as vote-counting continued in battleground states including Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. President Donald Trump made a White House appearance before cheering supporters, declaring he would challenge the poll results. He also posted misleading statements about the election on Facebook and Twitter, following months of signaling his unfounded doubts about expanded mail-in voting and his desire for final election results when polls closed on Nov. 3.

So what did tech companies do about it? For the most part, what they said they would, which primarily meant labeling false or misleading election posts in order to point users to reliable information. In Twitter’s case, that sometimes meant obscuring the offending posts, forcing readers to click through warnings to see them and limiting the ability to share them.

Jittery public awaits news about race for the White House

PHILADELPHIA — They clung to their cocktails and proclaimed themselves sick with dread. They relentlessly checked the news and went outdoors for fresh air. They bemoaned a wipeout wave that never came and held out hope their favored candidate still would eke out a win.

With the fate of the White House undecided Wednesday, a jittery and bitterly divided America braced for rocky days to come and the possibility a man they despise would be leading the nation.

“I can’t turn on the news. I don’t feel good at all,” said 61-year-old Tammy Lewandowski, a supporter of President Donald Trump in Milwaukee, where former Vice President Joe Biden emerged as the state’s winner. That’s an outcome Lewandowski fears will amount to a loss of law and order and rioting. “I feel like we lost our country. I don’t know that anything will be the same again.”

On the other side of the divide but just as troubled, women gathering at a Fems for Dems gathering in the affluent Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills moaned and dropped their heads into their hands as the returns came in early Wednesday, some considering switching from red wine to tequila. Even as they held out hope, they knew they hadn’t won what they wanted: a nationwide repudiation of Trump.

“I honestly feel like I’m going to have a heart attack before the end of this,” said Denice Asbell. “I feel like it’s slipping. I’m scared to say this out loud, but the potential for us to see the win that we wanted is slipping away.”

Flash of luck: Astronomers find cosmic radio burst source

A flash of luck helped astronomers solve a cosmic mystery: What causes powerful but fleeting radio bursts that zip and zigzag through the universe?

Scientists have known about these energetic pulses — called fast radio bursts — for about 13 years and have seen them coming from outside our galaxy, which makes it harder to trace them back to what’s causing them. Making it even harder is that they happen so fast, in a couple of milliseconds.

Then this April, a rare but considerably weaker burst coming from inside our own Milky Way galaxy was spotted by two dissimilar telescopes: one a California doctoral student’s set of handmade antenna s, which included actual cake pans, the other a $20 million Canadian observatory.

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They tracked that fast radio burst to a weird type of star called a magnetar that’s 32,000 light-years from Earth, according to four studies in Wednesday’s journal Nature.

It was not only the first fast radio burst traced to a source, but the first emanating from our galaxy. Astronomers say there could be other sources for these bursts, but they are now sure about one guilty party: magnetars.

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