The Atlantic Daily: Uncomfortable Untruths

Obama promised to retaliate against Russia, Facebook tried to stop fake news, climate change brought polar bears closer to humans, and more.

Kevin Coombs / Reuters

What We’re Following

Hacking Back? In an NPR interview, President Obama said definitively that the U.S. would retaliate against Russian cyberattacks interfering with the presidential election. He didn’t, however, explain what that retaliation would look like—a tit-for-tat cyberattack, or more traditional sanctions—or how public it would be. In a subsequent press conference this afternoon, Obama defended his decision not to release news of the suspected interference before the election, citing worries that in a hyperpartisan environment, such news would undermine public trust in the vote. Still, some cyberwar experts worry that a response now would come too late—though at this point, one part of Obama’s strategy may be to hold Trump back from reaching out to Russia.

Fake News: One tactic of which the Kremlin stands accused is promoting the spread of misinformation with the help of social-media trolls. Facebook is now taking steps to prevent that spread, with a tool that will flag certain links as “Disputed by 3rd Party Fact-Checkers.” The new feature will likely help to contain false stories spread by unwitting users—yet for those most suspicious of media, it might only confirm their belief that mainstream institutions are conspiring against them. Elsewhere in the social-media world, Trump’s Twitter feed has become a powerful platform—and not only for the president-elect himself. Each time he tweets, bots and fact-checkers alike compete to be the first to reply—because true or false, the information spread in that space will have an extraordinary reach and influence.

Creature Comforts: Though human encroachment on chimpanzees’ habitats has brought them close to extinction, there’s some good news: New research shows that the apes are adapting surprisingly well to the human world. But that doesn’t mean humans can continue to expand into animal habitats without harm. More sobering news, from a polar bear containment facility in northern Canada, is that the bears are increasingly coming into contact and conflict with humans—and that’s because climate change is quickly reducing the size of their habitat.


Numerals for the 2017 New Year celebration in New York City arrive in Times Square on December 17, 2016. See more of the week’s best photos here—and for another holiday countdown, check out our Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar, which posts a new extraterrestrial image every day until December 25. (Drew Angerer / Getty)

Evening Read

Graeme Wood on Yahya Abu Hassan, the American ISIS leader:

At dawn on a warm September morning in 2013, a minivan pulled up to a shattered villa in the town of Azaz, Syria. A long-bearded 29-year-old white man emerged from the building, along with his pregnant British wife and their three children, ages 8, 4, and almost 2. ... Yahya had arranged for a human trafficker to meet them, and when the trafficker’s truck arrived, Yahya pressed a few hundred dollars into the man’s hand. Yahya and Tania had been married for 10 years, but they did not say goodbye. Satisfied that his family would not die, Yahya turned and ran across the border, back into Syria—again under gunfire—without even a wave. ...

As his family traveled to London, relieved to have escaped the worst place on Earth, Yahya felt relief of his own—he could now pursue his dreams unencumbered by a wife and children. He felt liberated. He carried visions of the caliphate yet to be declared, and ideas for how to shape it. These thoughts were not idle. Yahya, by then, had a small but influential following, and his calm erudition had won him the respect that his teachers and parents had withheld during his youth. His own destiny seemed to be converging with that of the world’s. It was the best day of his life.

Keep reading here, as Wood uncovers how Yahya—born John Georgelas in Texas—was radicalized and rose to prominence in the Islamic State.

What Do You Know?

1. ____________ percent of the people in U.S. prisons could be released without any danger to the public, according to a new report.

Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.

2. Afghanistan depends on international donors for almost ____________ percent of its income.

Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.

3. Children show evidence of “growth” or “fixed” mindsets—that is, the belief that they can or cannot improve their abilities through hard work—when they are as young as ____________ years old.

Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.

Answers: 39, 70, 3.5

America by Air

Reader Adam Feiges contributes a nighttime shot of Chicago to our ongoing series of aerial photos:

See more photos of America from the air. If you find yourself with aerial snapshots to share in the course of your holiday travels, please send them our way: (We have eight states yet to be represented among the full 50—CT, GA, MS, NM, ND, RI, VT, WV—but any state will do.)

Reader Response

In our ongoing series of personal stories of psychiatric hospitals, this reader shares her memory of the day she helped her boyfriend commit himself:

Sitting with him in the stark, cold bleakness of an ER psych room, trying to distract him and calm him and cheer him for nine hours, was one of the hardest things I have ever done. He was on a gurney, and I was in a chair, and there was nothing else in the room: bare walls, a picture window facing a hallway where the ER psych staff sat. It was frigid, and they knew that because they brought blankets in right away, but they didn’t offer to adjust the heat. …

When the doctor came in for him to sign the paperwork, I learned that the law in our state is that if you commit yourself and change your mind, the hospital is allowed to keep you for five days to evaluate you. And even then, it can go to a judge who might still rule against you. Five full days.

He signed those papers. Watching him, everything in me screamed DON’T DO IT!, but I kept my face still and nodded encouragement. And then a few hours later I had to leave, had to walk away from him and leave him behind a locked door.  

Read more here. If you have a loved one who’s a psychiatric patient, or if you’ve struggled with the decision to commit a family member to inpatient care, we’d like to hear your story (anonymously, if you prefer):

The Atlantic Daily is written by Rosa Inocencio Smith. To contact us, email