NEW YORK (AP) — The problems keep piling up for Facebook, and it’s unclear how long the internet giant will be able to brush them aside as it barrels toward acquiring its next billion users.
The world’s biggest social network has unwittingly allowed groups backed by the Russian government to target users with ads. That’s after it took months to acknowledge its outsized role in influencing the U.S. election by allowing the spread of fake news — though before news emerged that it let advertisers target messages to “Jew-haters.”
Now Facebook is under siege, facing questions from lawmakers and others seeking to rein in its enormous power. The company has turned over information on the Russia-backed ads to federal authorities investigating Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election. Critics say the company also needs to tell its users how they might have been influenced by outside meddlers.
Speculation is rife that Facebook executives, perhaps including CEO Mark Zuckerberg, could be called to testify before Congress. Hearings might lead to new regulations on the company.
“Facebook appears to have been used as an accomplice in a foreign government’s effort to undermine democratic self-governance in the United States,” writes Trevor Potter, former chairman of the Federal Election Commission and now head of a nonpartisan election-law group, in a letter to Zuckerberg.
“ERA OF ACCOUNTABILITY”
Potter’s group, the Campaign Legal Center, wants Facebook to make the Russian-sponsored ads public. The company has so far declined to do so, citing the ongoing investigations. It has provided the ads and other information to Robert Mueller, the special counsel in charge of the Russia investigation, Facebook said in a statement, although it declined to elaborate.
The company that nudges its users to reveal intimate details about their lives, it turns out, isn’t all that comfortable doing the same. That’s true for everything from the secret algorithms that recommend “people you might know” to data on its attempts to clamp down on the spread of false news shared across its network.
The company justifies its secrecy in many ways, having variously claimed legal restrictions, business secrets, security and privacy protections to excuse its opacity. But Jonathan Albright, whose late 2016 research on the “fake news” propaganda ecosystem outlined how propaganda websites track and target users, thinks the current moment may be a turning point for online giants like Facebook.
“Now that it has run directly into something that possibly affected the outcome of the election — but they can’t determine how — this may be their era of accountability,” said Albright, the director of research at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University.
There has been no other company on the planet, Albright added, that can provide access to as many real people as Facebook.
POWER GAMES AND NEW RULES
Facebook prefers to think of itself as an online platform, but in many respects it’s also a modern sort of media company, if for no other reason than that so many people rely on it as a source of news and information. In its early years, Facebook even described itself as a “social utility.”
Now the question is whether it should be regulated as one — and if so, how. There aren’t many straightforward answers, even where political ads already subject to government rules are concerned.
It’s already illegal for foreign nationals to spend money in connection with a U.S. federal election, whether on or off of Facebook. And campaign law requires people who spend money on another person’s website to disclose that fact in the ad itself.
Broadcast-era election law, however, can be a poor fit for the Internet Age. Attempts to sway political sentiment on Facebook can be targeted to small groups who share a common background or attitudes, making them difficult to track from the outside. And many such efforts might not resemble traditional advertisements at all. The goal of many Facebook marketing campaigns is to generate posts that regular people will spread widely for free; political persuasion campaigns can work the same way.
“As a practical matter, it is extremely difficult for the U.S. government to regulate content on the internet that may have an effect on the U.S. election,” said Nathaniel Persily, a professor at Stanford Law School. “If a teenager in his mother’s basement in Moscow wants to put up a YouTube video, it’s not clear what the U.S. will be able to do about that.”
Difficult doesn’t mean impossible. Persily, for instance, thinks that Facebook could use its AI technology to flag election-related ads that don’t bear the disclosures required by existing law.
Companies like Facebook could also be required to do some kind of due diligence on who is spending money on their platforms on behalf of candidates, he added. Keeping an online repository of all candidate-related ads within six months of an election, identified by their backers, could also provide an additional check on illegal attempts to sway elections.
MIAMI (AP) — The Latest on tropical weather (all times local):
A series of Facebook posts by Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit is capturing the power of Hurricane Maria as it roars past the island as a Category 5 storm.
About 8:45 p.m. Skerrit writes: “The winds are merciless! We shall survive by the grace of God!”
A few minutes later, he writes that he can hear the sound of galvanized steel roofs coming off houses on the small, rugged island in the eastern Caribbean.
He then writes that he believes his home has been damaged. And three words: “Rough! Rough! Rough!”
A half-hour later he says “My roof is gone. I am at the complete mercy of the hurricane. House is flooding.” Seven minutes later he posts that he has been rescued.
Maria was passing just south of Dominica late Monday and into early Tuesday on a path taking it toward Puerto Rico.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami says the eye wall of Category 5 Maria is moving onshore over Dominica.
Forecasters say that the “potentially catastrophic” hurricane with 160 mph (260 kph) winds will likely travel over the Leeward Islands and the extreme northeast Caribbean through Monday night and Tuesday.
They expect Hurricane Maria will approach Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands on Tuesday night and Wednesday.
Maria could dump 10 to 15 inches (25 to 38 centimeters) of rain over the Leeward Islands and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, causing flash floods and mudslides.
Forecasters expect “potentially catastrophic” Category 5 Hurricane Maria to move near Dominica in the next few hours and approach Puerto Rico by Tuesday night.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Monday evening that the storm with 160 mph (260 kph) winds may continue to strengthen during the night.
Dangerous storm surge is expected to accompany Maria, raising water levels by 6 to 9 feet (2 to 3 meters) as it moves across the Leeward Islands and British Virgin Islands.
Forecasters say dangerous surf and rip currents from Hurricane Jose are expected to continue along the U.S. East Coast.
The Category 1 storm with 75 mph (120 kph) winds is about 230 miles east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.
Forecasters say Hurricane Maria has become a Category 5 storm as the eye nears Dominica.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Monday evening that Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter planes found that Maria had strengthened into a storm with 160 mph (260 kph) winds.
The hurricane is about 15 miles (25 kilometers) east-southeast of Dominica and moving west-northwest at 9 mph (15 kph).
A private Catholic university in Florida has chartered a plane to fly students out of the Caribbean island of St. Croix as it braces for Hurricane Maria.
A news release from Barry University says students, faculty, staff and family members connected to the school’s Physician Assistant Program were being flown to Miami on Monday. A few pets were also taken on the flight.
The 72 evacuees will be staying in residence halls at the school’s Miami Shores campus.
St. Croix is part of the U.S. Virgin Islands. It was largely spared by Hurricane Irma when it roared through the Caribbean as a Category 5 hurricane earlier this month. Two other main islands of the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Thomas and St. John, were devastated.
Forecasts show Hurricane Maria approaching the islands Tuesday night and Wednesday.
Hurricane forecasters are predicting that already powerful Hurricane Maria will become a destructive Category 5 hurricane with winds reaching 155 mph (250 kph).
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Monday that the storm would reach the highest measurement on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale within 24 hours.
University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy says one key sign of Maria’s growing strength is what center forecasters call “the dreaded pinhole eye.” Maria’s eye has shrunk to 10 miles (15 kilometers) in diameter
A smaller, tighter eye makes the hurricane spin faster.
McNoldy says meteorologists saw a similar pinhole eye when Hurricane Wilma set a record for lowest central pressure — a key measure of storm power — in 2005.
Hurricane Maria has intensified into a dangerous Category 4 storm as it bears down on the Caribbean.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Monday the storm is growing in strength as it approaches land. The eye of the storm is expected to pass near the island of Dominica on Monday evening.
The center called the storm “extremely dangerous,” with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph (215 kph).
At 5 p.m. EDT, the storm was centered about 45 miles (70 kilometers) east-southeast of Dominica.
A Hurricane warning has been issued for Puerto Rico, Culebra, and Vieques.
Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina is canceling his speech before the U.N. General Assembly so that he can return home and coordinate preparations for Hurricane Maria.
Medina said in a video announcement that he wants to be in the country and make sure all necessary steps are being taken as the storm passes close to the country.
Maria is now on track to pass northeast of the eastern tip of the Dominican Republic early Thursday.
Medina was already in New York but expects to be home by late Monday.
The governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands says people on the island of St. Croix should finish up preparing for Hurricane Maria.
Gov. Kenneth Mapp says the eyewall of the storm is expected to pass 22 miles (35 kilometers) south of the island Tuesday night and early Wednesday. Hurricane-force winds will extend for about 15 miles. Mapp warned the path of the storm could shift and the island could still be hit with strong gusts and heavy rain.
Mapp says the entire U.S. territory will be under curfew starting 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Maria comes on the heels of Hurricane Irma, which passed directly over the islands of St. Thomas and St. John to the north on Sept. 6.
The deployment of more than 100 members of the New York Army National Guard and state police to the U.S. Virgin Islands to help with hurricane recovery efforts is on hold because of another storm.
National Guard officials said Monday that the departure of 100 soldiers in a Buffalo-based military police unit and 30 troopers has been delayed because of Hurricane Maria, which has strengthened into a Category 3 storm as it pushes toward the eastern Caribbean.
The New York contingent was set to depart from Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station aboard a military aircraft for St. Thomas, one of several Caribbean islands devastated by Hurricane Irma.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he was sending aid to the U.S. Virgin Islands during a one-day visit to the U.S. territory last Friday.
Puerto Rico has imposed a rationing of basic supplies including water and baby formula as Hurricane Maria approaches as a Category 3 storm.
Officials said Monday that the rationing is necessary to ensure everyone has access to basic items such as batteries, milk, canned foods, flashlights and other things. It does not apply to gasoline or other fuels.
Shelves at many stores were emptying out quickly as people rushed to finalize hurricane preparations. Many posted desperate pleas on social media for help in finding certain items.
Officials said some stores already were imposing their own rationing measures and stressed that more merchandise was scheduled to arrive on Monday to replenish shelves.
French authorities have ordered residents of the French Caribbean territory of Martinique to stay home as Hurricane Maria intensifies and approaches the island.
Authorities said in a statement that all rescue and security services on the island are on standby, including 600 firefighters, 400 police officers and 500 troops.
All schools and public services are closed. Residents should shelter in the safest room of their homes and be prepared for power cuts and a disruption in the water supply.
A tropical storm warning has been issued for a stretch of New England as Hurricane Jose approaches the coast of the U.S. Northeast.
National Hurricane Center in Miami said the warning was in effect for an area stretching from Watch Hill, Rhode Island, to Hull, Massachusetts. The storm is expected to remain offshore, although coastal flooding is possible from Delaware to southern New England over the next few days.
The center says little change in strength is expected in the next 24 hours, although the storm will slowly weaken afterward. Maximum sustained winds Monday are near 75 mph (120 kph) with higher gusts.
Jose is expected to produce total rain accumulations of 3 to 5 inches over eastern Long Island, southeast Connecticut, southern Rhode Island, and southeast Massachusetts, including Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, through Wednesday.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami says that Hurricane Maria has strengthened to a Category 3 storm as it headed toward the Caribbean.
Maria on Monday was “rapidly” intensifying into a major hurricane. The eye is expected to move through the Leeward Islands later Monday. The storm’s center was about 60 miles (95 kilometers) east of Martinique, with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph (195 kph).
The storm is on a path that would take it near many of the islands wrecked by Hurricane Irma and on toward Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Hurricane warnings were posted for Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat and Martinique.
The ocean is washing over parts of North Carolina’s Outer Banks as Hurricane Jose passes well to the east.
The state Transportation Department said in a Facebook post Monday that the affected areas encompass Pea Island, Rodanthe, Avon and Hatteras village on Hatteras Island.
Jose was about 270 miles (440 kilometers) east-southeast of Cape Hatteras on Monday morning and moving north at 9 mph (15 kph). It had maximum sustained winds of 85 mph (140 kph).
DOT is urging drivers to drive slowly through the water. All roads are passable.
The National Weather Service warns of dangerous rip currents along the coast.
Five people were knocked off a coastal jetty in the U.S. Northeast by high surf caused by Hurricane Jose hundreds of miles (kilometers) away in the Atlantic.
Capt. Nelson Upright of the Narragansett Fire Department told WPRI-TV the injuries in Rhode Island ranged Sunday from minor to “pretty major.” He says rescuers had to fight through rough surf to load the injured onto stretchers and get them to shore. All five were taken to a hospital.
A witness who called 911 told the station the people were standing in two groups on different parts of the jetty as the storm-whipped waves crashed over the rocks. He says one person appeared to be unconscious and another had a significant leg injury.
Emergency officials along the coast are warning people to watch waves churned up by Jose from a safe distance.
Hurricane Jose is still far out in the Atlantic but warnings already are up in New Jersey for rough surf, powerful winds and even a chance for storm surge by midweek.
A tropical storm watch is in effect in New Jersey for all or parts of several coastal counties. Tropical storm conditions are possible Tuesday.
Jose, still far off in the Atlantic, is churning up the ocean and swimmers are advised to stay out of the surf.
Forecasters say wind gusts of up to 45 mph (72 kph) are possible, winds capable of downing trees and power lines.
The potential exists for a storm surge of 1 to 3 feet (1 meter) through early Wednesday afternoon. That could pose flooding along the coast and generate moderate beach erosion.
8 a.m. EDT
Forecasters say Hurricane Jose is now about 270 miles (440 kilometers) east-southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and that a large stretch of the U.S. East Coast into New England should keep watch on the storm’s progress.
Jose is whipping up dangerous surf and rip currents as it heads north over the Atlantic off the heavily populated Eastern Seaboard. The storm had maximum sustained winds of 85 mph (140 kph) as of 8 a.m. EDT Monday. Forecasters say Jose is expected to pass well offshore of North Carolina’s coast through Monday, then head further north east of the New Jersey coast by Wednesday.
In the eastern Caribbean, Hurricane Maria is intensifying. The U.S. National Hurricane Center says the storm now has top winds of 110 mph (175 kph) and is about 85 miles (135 kilometers) east of Martinique and set to become a major hurricane in coming hours. A hurricane warning has now been issued for St. Lucia.
The Miami-based hurricane center says Maria is expected to move across the Leeward Islands late Monday. ———
5 a.m. EDT
Authorities have issued a hurricane watch for Puerto Rico as Hurricane Maria churns toward the Eastern Caribbean amid forecasts it could become a major hurricane by Monday night or early Tuesday.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Maria was centered about 100 miles (160 kilometers) east of Martinique at 5 a.m. EDT Monday with top sustained winds of 90 mph (150 kph). It is moving west-northwest at 13 mph (20 kph).
Elsewhere, Hurricane Jose continues to head north over the Atlantic off the U.S. East Coast, causing dangerous surf and rip currents. Tropical storm watches have been posted along the coast from Delaware to Massachusetts’ Cape Cod. Jose, with top sustained winds of 85 mph (140 kph), was located about 385 miles (620 kilometers) west of Bermuda. It was moving north at 9 mph.
In the Eastern Pacific, forecasters say, Tropical Storm Norma was expected to slowly weaken southwest of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. Norma was about 160 miles (255 kilometers) southwest of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, early Monday with top sustained winds of 50 mph (kph). Forecasters say no coastal warnings or watches are in effect for Norma.
A strengthening Hurricane Maria swirled toward the eastern Caribbean early Monday, with forecasters warning it probably would be a major storm by the time it passed through the already battered Leeward Islands later in the day.
Maria grew into a hurricane Sunday, and forecasters said it was expected to become much stronger over the next 48 hours following a path that would take it near many of the islands wrecked by Hurricane Irma and on toward Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
Hurricane warnings were posted for Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat and Martinique. A tropical storm warning was issued for Antigua and Barbuda, Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Lucia. Other islands were warned to stay alert for changes in the storm. Hurricane watches were up in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, the island shared by French St. Martin and Dutch St. Maarten, St. Barts and Anguilla.
This story corrects to Jose, not Irma, in 3rd paragraph of 9 a.m. entry
Fed likely to pare its bond portfolio even with outlook hazy
WASHINGTON (AP) — When the Federal Reserve meets this week, it’s sure to take account of the economic consequences of two hurricanes. It will also be awaiting an announcement, possibly within weeks, about its own leadership. Amid the uncertainty, the Fed is expected to announce it will begin paring its enormous bond portfolio — a process likely to cause consumer and business loan rates to rise gradually over time.
GOP eyes popular tax breaks to finance overhaul
WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans straining to find about $1 trillion to finance sweeping tax cuts are homing in on two popular deductions that are woven into the nation’s fiscal fabric. One is the mortgage interest deduction that millions of homeowners prize. The other is the deduction for state and local taxes popular in Democratic strongholds.
US homebuilder sentiment falls in September
U.S. homebuilders are feeling less optimistic about their sales prospects, reflecting concerns that rebuilding efforts following hurricanes Harvey and Irma will drive up costs for construction labor and materials. Even so, builders’ overall view of the new-home market remains positive. The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index released Monday slipped to 64 this month. That’s down three points from a downwardly revised reading of 67 in August.
Another major deal in defense sector as global tensions rise
FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — Northrop Grumman is buying Orbital ATK for about $7.8 billion as activity in defense sector heats up amid rising global tensions. Earlier this month, United Technologies said it would pay $22.75 billion for defense contractor Rockwell Collins.
AP Exclusive: Evidence of spills at toxic site during floods
PASADENA, Texas (AP) — The government received reports of three spills at one of Houston’s dirtiest Superfund toxic waste sites in the days after Hurricane Harvey’s drenching rains. Aerial photos reviewed by The Associated Press show dark-colored water surrounding the site as the floods receded, flowing through Vince Bayou and into a ship channel.
Trudeau: Canada could stop dealing with Boeing over dispute
TORONTO (AP) — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government could stop doing business with Boeing if it doesn’t drop a trade complaint against Canadian plane maker Bombardier. Trudeau says that the country “won’t do business with a company that’s busy trying to sue us and put our aerospace workers out of business.”
Ryanair under pressure after messing up pilots’ holidays
LONDON (AP) — Irish budget airline Ryanair is under pressure to provide more information to travelers after canceling up to 50 flights a day over the next six weeks because it “messed up” its pilots’ holiday schedules. The carrier, Europe’s biggest by passengers carried, said Saturday it would cancel the flights because it had “messed up in the planning of pilot holidays.”
Roku aims to raise $252 million with IPO
NEW YORK (AP) — Video streaming pioneer Roku hopes to raise just over $252 million in an initial public offering as it tries to expand into more households. The Los Gatos, California, company on Monday said it would offer about 18 million shares of stock at $14 apiece. Roku is still unprofitable and has amassed $244 million in losses since it was founded in 2002.
Laura Ingraham joins Fox News evening lineup
NEW YORK (AP) — Fox News announces that Laura Ingraham will join its evening lineup of hosts at 10 p.m. starting next month. Meanwhile, Sean Hannity will move up an hour to 9 p.m. to take on Rachel Maddow. The panelist show ‘The Five’ is moving back to the late afternoons
Banks lead US stocks modestly higher; oil prices slide
NEW YORK (AP) — Banks and other financial companies led U.S. stocks modestly higher Monday, nudging the stock market to another record high. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index and Dow Jones industrial average closed at new highs as the market extended its gains from last week. The rise in bond yields also weighed on utilities, real estate companies and other bond-proxies. Big retailers like Amazon.com and Home Depot declined the most.
The S&P 500 index rose 3.64 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,503.87. The Dow gained 63.01 points, or 0.3 percent, to 22,331.35. Both indexes closed at record highs on Friday. The Nasdaq composite added 6.17 points, or 0.1 percent, to 6,454.64. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks picked up 9.37 points, or 0.7 percent, to 1,441.08.
Benchmark U.S. crude rose 2 cents to settle at $49.91 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, used to price international oils, dropped 14 cents to $55.48 a barrel in London. Wholesale gasoline rose 1 cent to $1.67 a gallon. Heating oil fell 2 cents to $1.78 a gallon. Natural gas jumped 12 cents, or 4 percent, to $3.15 per 1,000 cubic feet.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein told President Donald Trump to “grow up and do your job” in response Monday to his retweeting of a mock video that shows him smacking a golf ball that —in the next frame — strikes Hillary Clinton in the back before she stumbles and falls down.
Trump retweeted the brief video on his official Twitter account Sunday. It appears to be a doctored version of news footage from 2011 that shows the then-secretary of state falling after climbing airplane stairs. The re-edited video appears to have superimposed images of a golf ball that is shown hitting Clinton.
The tweet says, “Donald Trump’s amazing golf swing #CrookedHillary.”
Feinstein said the tweet was “appalling and disgusting.” The California senator said all Americans should be offended by the “vindictive and candidly dangerous messages” the president sends. She said the messages demean all women, not just Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee.
“He continues to obsessively lash out at her — at his rallies, with his words and now through social media — in a manner that is utterly unbecoming of the president of the United States,” Feinstein said in a statement.
A Clinton spokesman had no comment after the president tweeted the video. The White House issued no immediate comment. Trump aides have said in the past that his tweets “speak for themselves.” The assessment from Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.: “juvenile.”
Back in July, Trump vented his rage against the media by posting someone else’s doctored anti-CNN video that showed Trump pummeling a man in a business suit — the man’s face obscured by the CNN logo — outside a wrestling ring.
Trump has stepped up his criticism of Clinton since she re-emerged to promote her new book about the 2016 campaign. She is unsparing in her assessment of Trump, calling him “a clear and present danger to the country and the world.”
The 2016 election is a source of major pride for Trump, who often cites his electoral vote victory as evidence of campaign prowess and popularity with Americans. He is quick to challenge or criticize anything that undercuts that premise. Trump has established a commission to investigate his unsubstantiated claims that millions of people voted illegally in 2016, when Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 2.9 million votes.
Clinton’s book assigns blame for her presidential loss on several factors, including interference from Russian hackers, accusations leveled at her by former FBI Director James Comey and even her gender. The White House has criticized the book, with spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders calling it “sad” that the last chapter of Clinton’s public life will be defined by selling books with “false and reckless attacks.”
In a pair of tweets last week, Trump took direct aim at Clinton.
“Crooked Hillary Clinton blames everybody (and every thing) but herself for her election loss. She lost the debates and lost her direction!” Trump wrote.
Referring to Clinton’s past description of some Trump supporters, he later tweeted: “The ‘deplorables’ came back to haunt Hillary. They expressed their feelings loud and clear. She spent big money but, in the end, had no game!”
Follow Hope Yen on Twitter at https://twitter.com/hopeyen1
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Latest on a civil rights lawsuit against Columbus following the arrest of a man in a convenience store Sept. 1 (all times local):
A federal lawsuit in Ohio alleges Columbus police used excessive force when they arrested a man earlier this month in an incident in which cellphone video showed officers kicking and punching the man.
The lawsuit filed Sunday in federal court in Columbus also accuses the police department of continuing a pattern of excessive force against civilians and in particular black residents.
The lawsuit filed on behalf of Timothy Davis says the department also fails to properly supervise, monitor and discipline officers who use excessive force.
At issue was the Sept. 1 arrest of Davis inside a Columbus convenience store where officers tried to arrest him on a warrant alleging he assaulted an officer last year.
The Columbus police department declined comment Monday morning.
This story has been corrected to show Davis is the lawsuit’s plaintiff, not defendant.
Messages were left with the Columbus mayor and police department.
GARDEN GROVE, Calif. (AP) — Eleven nuns take the stage wearing traditional black-and white habits but are anything but old school as they belt out songs to the ringing of electric guitar and a rock ‘n’ roll beat.
Known as “Siervas,” the band was born in a Peruvian convent three years ago and now travels far and wide to perform.
Of all the extraordinary things about Siervas the most remarkable may be they are not just a novelty. They have a genuine international following.
Their songs of love and faith have earned over a million YouTube views, led to the release of two CDs and now they are waiting to see if they are among the honorees when Latin Grammy nominations are announced Wednesday.
Siervas recently traveled to Southern California and drew 4,000 people when they headlined a Spanish-language Catholic music festival.
“Everyone was calling our office saying we want to see these nuns, when are they singing?” said Ryan Lilyengren, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, which organized the event. “They’re sharing their message in a way people are willing to hear it.”
The nuns, who come from eight countries and range in age from 20s to 40s, insist they aren’t rock stars. But they certainly act the part when on stage performing to the electric guitar, steady drumbeat and catchy lyrics, uniformly smiling as silver crosses dangle from their necks.
Their name Siervas — Spanish for “the servants” — comes from the convent where the band was formed and still lives.
At first, they composed and played music together as a hobby after spending days praying with incarcerated women and the poor in Peruvian shantytowns.
When Siervas had enough original music they compiled a CD. That led to a concert performance that attracted local media attention in Peru and then invitations to perform in nearby Colombia and Ecuador. Interest skyrocketed on the internet and the group released a second CD.
Now, they rehearse together twice a week, melding upbeat lyrics with Latin pop and rock. Each nun also practices daily on her own, honing skills on instruments ranging from cello to electric guitar.
A YouTube video of the group standing on a rooftop helipad overlooking Lima, Peru, and belting out their song “Confía en Dios” — or “Trust in God” — has more than 1 million views.
The band’s popularity comes at a time when the Catholic Church and other religious organizations are seeking to draw younger people. Among America’s so-called millennial generation, more than a third reported no religious affiliation and only 16 percent identified as Catholic, according to a 2014 study by the Washington-based Pew Research Center.
“Modern times have modern music,” said Sister Monica Nobl, a 40-year-old vocalist. “Pop-rock music is a kind of music we’ve heard all or lives. We grew up with that kind of music, so it’s also just natural to use it.”
Sister Andrea Garcia, 47, remembers listening to Michael Jackson when she was a college student. She thought she’d pursue a career in biology, but found faith instead.
“We think this music, or this genre, resonates with young people today,” said Garcia, a composer and vocalist from Argentina. “Our goal is that through the melodies, our lyrics will reach people.”
They sing in Spanish and their themes are Christian, but fans post messages to them on social media from Asia and Europe as well as Latin America. And while many fans are devout Catholics, others are from different denominations or even atheists, Garcia said.
Milagros Izagara, a 53-year-old real estate agent in Simi Valley, California, said she isn’t particularly religious but was drawn to the band’s songs encouraging unity.
“I am not a churchgoer, but I love this music,” said Izagara, who helped start a Peruvian community organization in Southern California. “I love it because they are breaking a paradigm. They are out of the box.”