‘Star Wars’ Passes ‘Beauty and the Beast’ as Top 2017 Earner

On the last day of the calendar year, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” has surpassed “Beauty and the Beast” as the top grossing film in North America in 2017. It also topped the charts for the weekend for the third time, but just barely – Dwayne Johnson’s “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is close on its tail.

According to studio estimates on Sunday, “The Last Jedi” will add $52.4 million over the weekend bringing its domestic total to $517.1 million. “Beauty and the Beast,” also a Disney release, netted out with $504 million for the year.

With the weekend’s earnings, “The Last Jedi” will also cross the $1 billion mark globally – even before it opens in China on Jan. 5.

But “Star Wars” is facing some hefty competition still, from the likes of The Rock, Jack Black and Kevin Hart, whose “Jumanji” sequel took in $50.6 million in its second weekend in theaters to take second place. The Columbia Pictures film has earned a stunning $169.8 million to date and could even reach $300 million domestically by the end of its run.

The acapella franchise “Pitch Perfect 3” took third place in weekend two, with $17.8 million, bringing its total to $64.3 million – still less than what “Pitch Perfect 2” earned on its opening weekend alone in May 2015 ($69.2 million).

Another musical, “The Greatest Showman,” with Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum, came in fourth place with $15.3 million after adding 310 screens. The animated kids film “Ferdinand” took fifth with $11.7 million.

In its first weekend in theaters after debuting on Christmas Day, Ridley Scott’s “All the Money in the World” took in $5.5 million, bringing its total to $12.6 million. The film got some added recognition when Scott replaced Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer and reshot portions of the film only 6 weeks before it was set to hit theaters. But the hype of the impressive feat hasn’t translated into big earnings.

Another adult-targeted film, Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing,” is struggling in theaters, taking in $4.6 million in its second weekend in theaters. The Matt Damon-starrer has earned only $17.1 million to date against a $68 million production budget.

In limited release, Aaron Sorkin’s “Molly’s Game,” starring Jessica Chastain, earned $2.33 million. The film about the “poker princess” Molly Bloom expands on Jan. 5. And Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread” earned $220,000 from four theaters over the weekend after its Christmas opening. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis as a designer, “Phantom Thread” has grossed $531,000 to date.

“As end of year marketplaces go, this is a great time to be a moviegoer,” said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst for comScore. “There are so many movies out there, the only trick is how do you see all of them.”

The year as a whole will surpass $11 billion again, with comScore projecting $11.12 billion, which is down 2.3 percent from last year’s record-breaking grosses ($11.4 billion), and almost on par with 2015’s $11.14 billion.

“We actually had a really great end of year surge,” Dergarabedian said. “‘Star Wars’ adding about a half billion dollars didn’t hurt. But ‘Star Wars’ didn’t do this alone. It’s not just about the big movies at the top, it’s also about the smaller movies that provided a really great foundation. Every dollar counts.”

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to comScore. Where available, the latest international numbers for Friday through Sunday are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Tuesday.

1.”Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” $52.4 million ($68 million international).

2.”Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” $50.6 million ($67 million international).

3.”Pitch Perfect 3,” $17.8 million ($13.1 million international).

4.”The Greatest Showman,” $15.3 million ($28.5 million international).

5.”Ferdinand,” $11.7 million ($23.1 million international).

6.”Coco,” $6.6 million ($21.4 million international).

7.”All the Money in the World,” $5.5 million ($1.4 million international).

8.”Darkest Hour,” $5.3 million.

9.”Downsizing,” $4.6 million ($1.4 million international).

10.”Father Figures,” $3.7 million.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at international theaters (excluding the U.S. and Canada), according to comScore:

1. “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” $68 million.

2. “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” $67 million.

3. “Ex-File 3 (Quan Ren 3),” $41.1 million.

4. “Goldbuster (Yao Ling Ling),” $38.4 million.

5. “Youth,” $28 million.

6. “Hanson and the Beast,” $25.5 million.

7. “Ferdinand,” $23.1 million.

8. “Namiya,” $21.4 million.

9. “Coco,” $21.4 million.

10. “Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds,” $20.1 million.

Universal and Focus are owned by NBC Universal, a unit of Comcast Corp.; Sony, Columbia, Sony Screen Gems and Sony Pictures Classics are units of Sony Corp.; Paramount is owned by Viacom Inc.; Disney, Pixar and Marvel are owned by The Walt Disney Co.; Miramax is owned by Filmyard Holdings LLC; 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight are owned by 21st Century Fox; Warner Bros. and New Line are units of Time Warner Inc.; MGM is owned by a group of former creditors including Highland Capital, Anchorage Advisors and Carl Icahn; Lionsgate is owned by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.; IFC is owned by AMC Networks Inc.; Rogue is owned by Relativity Media LLC.

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2018 Starts With a Bang as Fireworks Around the World Greet New Year

Thousands braved a frigid New York night to celebrate the start of 2018 in Times Square, an annual celebration that dates back to 1904.

Tarana Burke, a social activist who started the #MeToo movement to draw attention to sexual abuse, pushed the button that started the famed ball drop – a hallmark of the New York celebration for 110 years.2017 saw a sea change in attitudes and awareness of sexual assault and sexual harassment, as millions of people used the hashtag to show how pervasive abuse is in the wake of accusations made against dozens of high profile men, including celebrities, members of Congress and business leaders.

“We need to go into the new year as a new beginning, with a new set of commitments to a better world,” Burke told the New York Daily News.

As they do each year, the crowd counted down as the crystal ball slid down a pole, arriving at the bottom as 2018 began, accompanied by confetti and fireworks. 

Hundreds of thousands of people – watched over by thousands of police and other security personnel – crowded the square, despite temperatures around -12 C (10 degrees Fahrenheit). 

“Our toes are frozen, so we’re just dealing with it by dancing,” Remle Scott told the Associated Press. She traveled to New York with her boyfriend from San Diego to ring in the new year. 

The frosty festivities in Times Square included performances by Mariah Carey, Sugarland and Nick Jonas.

Fireworks around the world

In London, fireworks and the sound of Big Ben – the massive bell in the Elizabeth Tower clock – welcomed the start of 2018 for about 100,000 revelers near the River Thames.Big Ben has been silent since August, when a renovation project on the clock began.It’s not scheduled to return to regular service for about four years.

Fireworks were also part of the celebrations in Paris and Moscow.In the Russian capitol, fireworks lit up the sky over the Kremlin, while in Paris the display was held at the Arc de Triomphe.

Thousands gathered around Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor to watch a 10-minute musical firework display, which included “shooting stars” fired from rooftops and revelers dancing to “Auld Lang Syne.”

In the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, over 400 couples participated in a New Year’s mass wedding provided for free by authorities.

Nearly 1.5 million people gathered to watch a rainbow fireworks display above Sydney’s iconic Harbour Bridge and the opera house, as the country celebrated legalizing gay marriage.

Security tight

In preparation for celebrations in cities around the world, hundreds of thousands of law enforcement, military and security officials are being deployed to keep New Year’s Eve revelers safe.

In Australia, officials were out in full force on the ground, air and sea as part of the largest security operation in the country. Police in Melbourne last month arrested a man for planning to shoot revelers on New Year’s Eve.

In the United States, New York City officials used two-step screening, snipers, street closures and specially trained dogs to secure Times Square.

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Library of Congress Will No Longer Collect Every Tweet Created

The U.S. Library of Congress says it will no longer collect every single tweet published on Twitter as it has been doing for the past 12 years. 

The library said this week that it can no longer collect everything across the entire social media platform because of recent changes Twitter has made, including allowing longer tweets, photos and videos. 

It said in a blog post this week that its first objective with collecting and archiving tweets was “to document the emergence of online social media for future generations.” The library says it has fulfilled that objective and no longer needs to be a “comprehensive” collector of tweets. 

The Library of Congress said it will still collect and archive tweets in the future, but will do so on a more selective basis. It said going forward “the tweets collected and archived will be thematic and event-based, including events such as elections, or themes of ongoing national interest, e.g. public policy.”

The library said it generally does not collect media comprehensively, but said it made an exception for public tweets when the social media platform was first developed. 

The library said it will keep its previous archive of tweets from 2006-2017 to help people understand the rise of social media and to offer insight into the public mood during that time. “Throughout its history, the Library has seized opportunities to collect snapshots of unique moments in human history and preserve them for future generations,” it said.

“The Twitter Archive may prove to be one of this generation’s most significant legacies to future generations. Future generations will learn much about this rich period in our history, the information flows, and social and political forces that help define the current generation,” it said.

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A 19th-century Arcade Game Is Hot in 21st Century

It’s not an Olympic sport, at least not yet, but pinball has a growing body of top-level athletes, and a growing number of international competitions. Faith Lapidus reports.

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Using Simple Electric Currents to Clean Dirty Water

The World Health Organization estimates more than 800,000 people around the world die every year because of unsafe drinking water. But researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology may have figured out a simple and inexpensive way to clean the world’s dirtiest water. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

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Annual NYC Taxi Driver Calendar Is Out: Meet Mr. December!

Readying for his first television interview, Alex Wang gazes at his reflection in the back window of his yellow cab. Wiping his windswept mane behind the ear, he adjusts his red Shanghai Tang jacket and takes a swig of steaming tea.

“Ahh,” he pauses emphatically, “warms your whole body.”

Wang opens the front door and reaches deep inside, revealing a glossy 2018 calendar. On the cover is a shirtless male model, sprawled on his belly atop a yellow taxicab trunk, licking a spiral rainbow-colored lollipop the size of his face.

“It’s me!” he laughs, self-deprecatingly, pointing to his photo. “So ugly, you are!”

The 68-year-old Wang, an 18-year taxicab veteran, self-proclaimed “karaoke king” and “bit of a comedian” from China, flips through the months, each featuring a New York taxi driver. Most are foreign-born, representing seven different countries, and many are middle-aged, reflecting the key demographics of the city’s yellow cab fleet: 96 percent immigrant, median age 46.


WATCH: Is It Hot in Here, or Is It New York’s 2018 Taxicab Models?


The NYC Taxi Drivers Calendar’s co-creators, Philip and Shannon Kirkman, came up with the idea five years ago as a tongue-in-cheek alternative to the famous chisel-chested firefighter pin-up — a steamy parody with the dual-function of celebrating the city’s diversity, while also giving back.

To date, the couple has donated more than $60,000 worth of proceeds to University Settlement, a nonprofit that serves immigrant and low-income families with education, housing, and health services.

​Turning taxi drivers into models

Shannon, the calendar’s photographer, describes the end product’s humor as uniting.

“Particularly when the news is tough, it’s something that you can kind of take a step back, and relax and celebrate with,” Shannon said. “We laugh a lot during the shoots.”

Philip, the calendar’s creative director, explains that the process of turning a taxi driver into a model, during a two-hour shoot, can prove challenging.

“I always think about how courageous it is for these drivers, because it is an open set,” Philip said. “We literally park the cab in front of a fire hydrant in most cases, and there’s people walking by and looking and taking pictures.”

Among the fearless models are pucker-lipped Dan — who sports a bow-tie, cuffs, and not much else before a vintage late 60s-era checker taxicab — and Hassan, who seductively watches you as he eats a messy slice of birthday cake decorated with his own smiling portrait.

Of the year’s 12 participants, only one is a woman, indicative of a male-dominated industry in which 99 percent of New York City yellow cab drivers are men.

Bangladeshi-native Nipa, featured in both the inside cover and October, is the third woman ever to be included in the calendar. Her depiction as a strongwoman was intentional.

“It’s been a tough year for women,” Shannon said. “We felt like we really wanted to put Nipa in a position of power, in a position of strength.”

​‘A little’ fame

Come winter, cover model Wang can be seen enthusiastically squirting a bottle of baby oil across the hood of his vehicle, in his official December photo.

Wang, who started his life in the U.S. as a restaurant deliveryman 37 years ago, says being a taxi driver has been the most rewarding job and career for him.

“Every [time a] passenger comes in … I practice my English,” Wang says. “I see lots of beautiful places, lots of landmarks of New York.”

Everywhere he drives, Wang proudly displays his roots, but there is no place he would rather call home. And now that he has found “a little” fame, he plans to make sure everyone knows about it.

“I will show all the passengers,” he says. “I was in a taxi calendar, and [I was] the cover man. Alex Wang!”

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Is It Hot in Here, or Is It New York’s 2018 Taxicab Models?

The New York City Taxi Drivers Calendar began as a tongue-in-cheek alternative to the famous chisel-chested firefighter pin-up, while benefiting a nonprofit that serves immigrant and low-income families. Now in its fifth year, the creators of the parody calendar are out with their 2018 edition, and it may be their sauciest one yet. Ramon Taylor reports.

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Beatles’ Ringo Starr Knighted in UK Honors List

Ex-Beatles drummer Ringo Starr has been knighted in Queen Elizabeth’s New Year’s honors list, along with Bee Gees singer Barry Gibb and author Michael Morpurgo, while ballet dancer Darcey Bussell becomes a dame.

Ringo, 77, real name Richard Starkey, joined the Beatles as a replacement drummer for Pete Best in 1962 and occasionally sang lead vocals, notably in “Yellow Submarine” and “With a Little Help from my Friends.”

He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a Beatle in 1988 and again in 2015 for his solo career after the group split up.

Gibb, 71, is the British musician who co-founded the Bee Gees with his brothers Robin and Maurice, and went on to record a string of pop classics including “Stayin’ Alive” and “Night Fever” from the film Saturday Night Fever.

English author Morpurgo, 74, is best known for children’s novels like War Horse and was Children’s Laureate from 2003 to 2005.

Bussell, 48, is a former principal dancer with the Royal Ballet and currently one of the four judges in the long-running BBC TV ballroom contest Strictly Come Dancing.

The New Year’s honors have been awarded since Queen Victoria’s reign in the 19th century and aim to recognize not just well-known figures but those who have contributed to national life through often selfless and unsung contributions over many years.

In that category, Margaret Jamieson, of the Blue Door charity shop on the Scottish island of Orkney, is recognized, along with Geoffrey Evans, a local councilor in Falmouth, Cornwall, for over 40 years.

Actor Hugh Laurie receives the CBE medal, as does author Jilly Cooper and the former editor of British Vogue magazine Alexandra Shulman.

England women’s cricket captain Heather Knight is made an OBE while hip hop artist Richard Cowie, aka Wiley, is made an MBE, along with Paralympian athlete Stefanie Reid.

The biannual honors list is released on the Queen’s official birthday in June and at the end of each year.

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In Memoriam: Entertainers, Literary Giants Who Died in 2017

Some made us dance and filled our hearts with music, others made us dream with movies. While they are no longer with us, their work has touched many. From American and French music icons Chuck Berry and Johnny Hallyday to beloved American TV star Mary Tyler Moore to Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiabao, VOA’s Mariama Diallo reports on some of the famous faces we lost in the U.S. and elsewhere in 2017.

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The Biggest Consumer Electronics Show Opens in Two Weeks

January is almost here, and the world is bracing for the unofficial opening of this year’s race for the hearts, minds and pockets of tech enthusiasts. The international Consumer Electronics Show, CES for short, is the venue where technology manufacturers, from giants to startups, show their products, hoping they will become among the next must-haves worldwide. VOA’s George Putic looks at what may be expected.

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A Crystal Ball of Serenity for the New Year

It’s called the Crossroads of the World. New York City’s Times Square is the location for one of the biggest parties of the year, marked by the dramatic descent of a crystal ball on a huge pole, from high above a crowd of about a million people celebrating New Year’s in New York. Bob Leverone narrates this report by VOA’s Evgeny Maslov.

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Mystery Writer Grafton Dies in California

Mystery writer Sue Grafton has died in Santa Barbara, California. She was 77.

Her daughter, Jamie Clark, posted news of her mother’s death on Grafton’s web page Friday.

She says her mother passed away Thursday night after a two-year battle with cancer and was surrounded by family, including Grafton’s husband, Steve.

Grafton was the author of the Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Series, in which each book title begins with a letter from the alphabet. The last was Y Is for Yesterday.

Her daughter concluded her posting by saying, “The alphabet now ends at Y.”

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Cambodia Filmmakers Face ‘Taxing’ Times

The launch of Angelina’s Jolie’s Khmer language feature “First They Killed My Father” promised to deliver a much needed shot of exposure and enthusiasm into the arm of Cambodia’s emergent film industry.

Instead of using the spotlight to springboard their productions though, leading Cambodian filmmakers are fearing a proposed tax enforcement drive could kill the industry entirely.

Cambodia’s Ministry of Culture called filmmakers to a meeting in October to discuss the planned imposition of taxes on filmmakers.

The clampdown echoes a broader push by the country’s General Department of Taxation to transition from an opaque and dysfunctional system of negotiated tax to a more sustainable government revenue base.

But the idea an industry struggling to stay afloat can shoulder the implementation of full tax compliance is unrealistic, said Motion Picture Association of Cambodia president Chhay Bora.

“If the taxes are to be implemented [now],risk in the film industry will occur,” he said. “I think not less than 80 percent of production houses will close down because it is a heavy burden to them.

“All the artists will lose their job,” he added. ‘The technical team will no longer be in the film industry. Perhaps it will be the same as what happened in the 2000s.”

Cambodia’s film industry experienced a brief resurgence in the early 2000s fuelled by surging nationalist tensions with Thailand but with little support or direction interest soon fell away.

About seven years into a second boom, filmmakers have now been informed of just under a dozen taxes they are obligated to pay from pre-production to screening that cover monthly production incomes, cast and crew salaries.

They are also in the firing line for taxes on equipment rental, studio rental, full time staff, revenue from screening, annual VAT and withholding tax.

Bora, the director of feature films 3.50, which delved into the deplorable world of the virginity trade, and Lost Loves, the story of a mother fighting for her family’s survival under the Khmer Rouge, believes good cinema has a critical role to play in Cambodian society .

“It has influence in promoting culture, literature, and sending other educational messages,” he said, adding the art-form also brings national prestige.

In recent years Cambodian films have garnered some notable attention on the world stage with features such as Davy Chou’s Diamond Island and Rithy Panh’s The Missing Picture gracing Cannes and the Oscars.

Their success has helped inspire a new generation of filmmakers and slowly the quality of productions is lifting.

International distribution remains extremely rare though, confining most Cambodian filmmakers to a handful of theaters across the country that screen films on average just 26 times — or for about two weeks.

Filmmakers and distributors have told VOA cinemas commonly take a cut of 55 percent from these limited ticket sales.

Rampant copyright violation has made web based sales effectively pointless with most filmmakers outright refusing to do it or exhausting every other possible alternative first before risking illegal downloads.

As a result the production of serious feature films is far from a lucrative enterprise with local Cambodian attempts rarely managing to break even. Instead the filmmakers work largely for exposure.

Salaries are low and work scarce forcing freelance crew members to rely on a few jobs a year while supplementing their incomes through menial jobs, such as driving Tuk Tuks.

Huy Yaleng, 38, rode the wave of the first cinema resurgence in the early nineties at the start of his career and felt the pain of having to turn to TV execs as cinemas shut their doors, reopening as pubs and restaurants.

“The industry has just recovered in the past few years, as we all can see that we are not strong enough to make profit yet,” he said.

Huy said his latest thriller “Psychotic” had once again failed to turn a profit and vowed to throw in the towel if his upcoming feature “The Witch” brought no return again.

“I am worried. I have put my love into film for my entire life, and now it has problems,” Huy said. “I haven’t made any profit yet, but in my mind I told myself to continue because I love it and vow to serve this industry till the end. We will try until the end.”

The proposal to apply 10 percent salary tax to crew members along with taxes on other subcontractors such as those providing transportation or catering is particularly onerous, Chhay said, because their inability to pay left the burden with the production house.

Worse, such taxes would be backdated to the time each production house registered itself — leaving filmmakers struggling to break even with huge retrospective tax bills.

So he is leading the push for a 10-year tax holiday for the entire industry.

Pok Bora, Acting Director of the Film and Cultural Diffusion Department, said that request had been forwarded to higher authorities in the government but no decision had been made.

“The immediate solution by the Ministry of Economy [and Finance], is to offer a tax break until the end of 2018 for the Withholding Tax on cinema screening,” he said.

The government had also created a National Arts Support and Development Fund in June 2016 — only available to registered productions that fulfilled tax obligations.

“Therefore, there is a need to emphasize on tax reforms to make sure that the funds go to the right production,” he said.

Chea Sopheap, executive director of the Bophana Audio Visual Resource Center, said solutions to the industry’s financial woes hinged on research and clear understanding.

“So the best way is to have a good discussion, good study in order to find a balance between cinemas, film productions and the government,” he said.

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Facebook, Twitter Threatened With Sanctions in Britain

Social media giants Facebook and Twitter could face sanctions in Britain if they fail to be more forthcoming in providing details about Russian disinformation campaigns that used their platforms in the run-up to last year’s Brexit referendum, the chairman of a British parliamentary inquiry committee warned.

The companies have been given until January 18 to hand over information.

Damian Collins, chairman of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport committee in the British parliament, which is looking into Russian fake news’ efforts, criticized both companies earlier this month, accusing them of stonewalling the parliamentary investigation. But he has now warned they risk being punished and he says his committee is exploring what sanctions could be imposed on Facebook and Twitter.

“What there has to be then is some mechanism of saying: if you fail to do that, if you ignore requests to act, if you fail to police the site effectively and deal with highly problematic content, then there has to be some sort of sanction against you,” he told Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

He dubbed the lack of cooperation by the social media firms as “extraordinary.”

“They don’t believe that they have any obligation at all to initiate their own investigation into what may or may not have been happening, he said. “They’ve not done any of that work at all.”

Parliamentary committees do not have the power in their own right to impose sanctions on erring companies. But British officials have expressed interest in punishing social media companies for failing to take action to stop their platforms from being exploited by agitators, whether they are working for foreign powers or non-state actors such as the Islamic State terror group.

In September in New York at the annual general assembly meeting of the United Nations, British Prime Minister Theresa May expressed frustration with social media companies, saying they must go “further and faster” in removing extremist content and should aim to do so within two hours of it appearing on their sites.

“This is a major step in reclaiming the internet from those who would use it to do us harm,” she said.

The prime minister has repeatedly called for an end to “safe spaces” on social media for terrorists. And British ministers have called for limits to end-to-end encryption, which prevents messages from being read by third parties if they are intercepted.

British lawmakers and ministers aren’t the only ones considering ways to sanction social media firms that fail to police their sites to avoid them from being used to spread fake news or being exploited by militants. This month, Germany’s competition authority accused Facebook of violating European data protection regulations by merging information collected through WhatsApp and Instagram with Facebook user accounts.

Collins has written twice to the social media firms requesting information about suspected Russian fake news campaigns in the weeks and months before Britons voted in June 2016 on whether to retain membership in the European Union, Britain’s largest trading partner.

In a letter to Twitter, he wrote: “The information you have now shared with us is completely inadequate. … It seems odd that so far we have received more information about activities that have taken place on your platform from journalists and academics than from you.”

In response to parliamentary requests for information about Russian interference in the EU referendum, including details of accounts operated by Russian misinformation actors, the social media firms passed on copies of the details they provided to Britain’s Electoral Commission, which is probing advertising originating from Russian actors during the lead up to the Brexit vote.

Facebook said only $0.97 had been spent on Brexit-related ads seen by British viewers. Twitter claimed the only Russian spending it received was $1,000 from the Russian state-owned broadcaster RT.

Russia has been accused of meddling in recent elections in America, France and elsewhere and of running disinformation campaigns aimed at poisoning political discourse in the West and sowing discord with fake news.

In November, Prime Minister May accused Vladimir Putin’s government of trying to “undermine free societies” and “planting fake stories” to “sow discord in the West. “Russia has denied the allegations.

Three days before Christmas, Britain’s foreign minister, Boris Johnson, sparred with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, over the issue of alleged Russian meddling in the Brexit referendum.

During his trip to Moscow, the first visit by a British foreign secretary to the Russian capital for five years, Lavrov denied at a joint press conference that the Kremlin had sought to meddle, saying Johnson himself had previously said there was “no evidence of Russian interference in the Brexit referendum.” Johnson corrected Lavrov, saying: “Not successfully, is what I said.”

So far the evidence of a major Russian social media effort during the Brexit referendum remains thin, and at least not on the alleged scale seen, according to investigators, during the 2016 U.S. presidential race.

An investigation by the New York Times found that “Russian agents … disseminated inflammatory posts that reached 126 million users on Facebook, published more than 131,000 messages on Twitter and uploaded over 1,000 videos to Google’s YouTube service” ahead of the U.S. presidential vote.

In January 2017, the Office of the U.S. Director of National Intelligence concluded: “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election.”

In October 2017, researchers at the City University of London found a “13,500-strong [Russian] Twitter bot army,” was present on the social media site around the time of the referendum.

Bot accounts post content automatically. Those accounts in the month prior to the Brexit vote posted a total of 65,000 tweets about the referendum with a slant towards the leave campaign, according to City University researchers.

But a subsequent study by the University of California, Berkeley, and Swansea University in Wales unearthed more pro-Brexit Russian bot accounts, tracking over 150,000 of them.

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New Robot Teaches Autistic Adults to Navigate Office Politics

Autism is on the rise in many developed countries, and the reasons why are still unclear. But more autistic children mean that, one day, more autistic adults will be entering the workforce. A new robot is trying to help these workers navigate the emotional elements on the job. VOA’s Bronwyn Benito narrates this report by Kevin Enochs.

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Teen from Ghana Becomes First Black Woman on US Olympic Speedskating Team

Maame Biney, a 17-year-old from Ghana, will be the first African-American woman to represent the U.S. on the speedskating short track team at the 2018 Winter Olympics Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in February. VOA’s Salem Solomon visited her where she first started skating in a local ice rink in Reston, Virginia, and has this story.

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Photography Project Helps Fight Stereotypes of Africa

A new book just hit the bookstores in Europe and the U.S. that tries to show life in Africa beyond the stereotypes and misconceptions infused in Western media. Africa 54’s Zoe Leoudaki has the details

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Floral Art Welcomes Visitors to the Met Museum

The drawings and paintings on the walls and sculptures on display are not the only art to see at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Floral arrangements are designed to complement the exhibits and time of season. VOA Russian Service reporter Elena Wolf takes us behind the scenes at the Met to meet a third generation florist whose creates masterpieces every week. VOA’s Bob Leverone narrates the report.

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Actress Rose Marie of ‘Dick Van Dyke Show’ Fame Dies at 94

Actress and comedienne Rose Marie, who grew up from a child superstar to become a television comedy legend, died Thursday in Hollywood at 94.

She spent her entire life as a star, and was one of the last surviving entertainers whose career spanned all media — vaudeville, records, movies, Broadway, radio and television.

Born Rose Marie Mazetta in New York, she began singing on the vaudeville stage when she was 3 years old, billed as Baby Rose Marie.

With her naturally husky voice, many in the audience insisted she was not a child but a small adult dressed up in children’s clothes.

She soon became one of the country’s best-known child entertainers with her own radio show, touring in vaudeville, and singing in early sound films.

She dropped the “Baby” from her billing as she grew into a teenager, and continued to perform in nightclubs and make records.

Rose Marie became a household name again in 1961 when she began playing comedy writer Sally Rogers on television’s Dick Van Dyke Show — a hugely popular situation comedy that ran five years.

Her character was a wise-cracking single woman constantly on the lookout for a husband, using jokes to hide her loneliness.

She kept her persona of a man-hungry single woman as a panelist on game shows, including her long run as a regular on Hollywood Squares.

Rose Marie never retired. In the months before she died, she appeared in person during the screening of her autobiographical documentary film Wait for Your Laugh.

Throughout her career, Rose Marie was nominated for three Emmys and received a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame in 2001.

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Apple Apologizes After Outcry Over Slowed iPhones

Facing lawsuits and consumer outrage  after it said it slowed older iPhones with flagging batteries, Apple Inc is slashing prices for battery replacements and will change its software to show users whether their phone battery is good.

In a posting on its website Thursday, Apple apologized over its handling of the battery issue and said it would make a number of changes for customers “to recognize their loyalty and to regain the trust of anyone who may have doubted Apple’s intentions.”

Apple made the move to address concerns about the quality and durability of its products at a time when it is charging $999 for its newest flagship model, the iPhone X.

Battery prices lowered

The company said it would cut the price of an out-of-warranty battery replacement from $79 to $29 for an iPhone 6 or later, starting next month.

The company also will update its iOS operating system to let users see whether their battery is in poor health and is affecting the phone’s performance.

“We know that some of you feel Apple has let you down,” Apple said in its posting. “We apologize.”

On Dec. 20, Apple acknowledged that iPhone software has the effect of slowing down some phones with battery problems. Apple said the problem was that aging lithium batteries delivered power unevenly, which could cause iPhones to shutdown unexpectedly to protect the delicate circuits inside.

Lawsuits filed

That disclosure played on a common belief among consumers that Apple purposely slows down older phones to encourage customers to buy newer iPhone models.

While no credible evidence has ever emerged that Apple engaged in such conduct, the battery disclosure struck a nerve on social media and elsewhere. Apple on Thursday denied that it has ever done anything to intentionally shorten the life of a product.

At least eight lawsuits have been filed in California, New York and Illinois alleging that the company defrauded users by slowing devices down without warning them. The company also faces a legal complaint in France, where so called “planned obsolesce” is against the law.

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