1. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged collusion between Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia dominated the news at home and abroad.
Even among the opportunists, weirdos, trolls, and pawns who make up the cast of the Russian plot to interfere in the US election, Joseph Mifsud stands out.
BuzzFeed News tracked down his 31-year-old Ukrainian fiancé Anna in Kiev, learning new information about his activities, including his claim to have dined with the Russian foreign minister.
We also revealed a previously undisclosed meeting between Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos and the Greek defense minister — a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Closer to home, we provided a rare window into the inner workings of Mueller’s Trump–Russia probe.
Cassandra Ford, a 26-year-old from Ohio, got swept up in Mueller’s investigation by renaming a Twitter account after the persona leaking hacked Democratic emails — demonstrating the lengths to which the special counsel is going to make sure no stone is unturned.
BuzzFeed News also revealed how a direct line of communication between the Kremlin-connected Agalarov family and the Trumps was open during the transition after the 2016 election.
Via phone calls and text messages, the two families were in regular contact before and after the Trump Tower meeting — and right through the transition.
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2. Facebook faced a major challenge to its dominance around the world, coming under huge pressure for not doing enough — or anything, in some cases — to act against accounts spreading hate speech.
In Sri Lanka, BuzzFeed News discovered that Facebook had ignored years of calls from the government and civil society groups to prevent ethno-nationalist accounts from inciting violence, culminating in Facebook being temporarily banned in the country during deadly anti-Muslim riots.
And in Myanmar, BuzzFeed News shed new light on Facebook’s failure to tackle hate speech and explicit calls for violence against the Rohingya minority, victims of state-led violence that the UN this year described as genocide. Facebook did eventually ban 20 organizations and individuals in Myanmar, including the head of the armed forces, but many feared it was too little, too late.
3. Several caravans of Central Americans made their way through Mexico to the US, becoming one of the defining stories of the year, dominating the midterm elections, and culminating in desperate migrants being teargassed at the border.
Back in March, BuzzFeed News was the first media organization to report on a group of hundreds of Central Americans — children, women, and men, most of them from Honduras — hoping to safely reach the US by bypassing the gangs and cartels known to assault and exploit vulnerable migrants, and authorities who would seek to deport them.
This was far from the first caravan of its kind, but BuzzFeed News reported how a series of tweets from President Trump thrust the group of migrants under the spotlight of the US media, making a usually unseen journey of people one of the biggest stories in the world.
It was clear then that the migrants would present an enormous challenge to the Trump administration’s immigration policies and have huge repercussions for US–Mexico relations. And in small towns like O’Neill, Nebraska, these policies had a devastating impact on Latino workers who had settled in the US over the past decade.
As BuzzFeed News reported, O’Neill had become a refuge for scores of Central Americans fleeing poverty and unrest. An ICE raid changed all that.
4. Immigration was also a defining issue in Europe, where the rise of populism went hand in hand with an emboldened far right.
In Germany, BuzzFeed News reported from the city of Chemnitz, where anti-immigrant riots had shocked the whole country and continent.
In Italy, we tracked down Domenico Lucano, the mayor who welcomed refugees and migrants to the medieval village of Riace with open arms. But while he saved Riace from extinction, and became feted by progressives around the world, his actions have made him a target for the populist government in Italy. As BuzzFeed News found, Lucano just wants the world to leave him alone.
5. India’s #MeToo movement had a huge impact in 2018, with victims of sexual assault failed by due process turning to social media to call out men, and 10-year-old allegations by Bollywood stars finally getting attention.
But one story, told by a young Indian woman on Instagram stories and reported by BuzzFeed News, highlighted the universal limits of #MeToo.
K. told her followers she had had a “Tinder date gone bad,” but it turned out that it wasn’t just a bad date, it was a viral account of an alleged rape told over 80 15-second videos, screenshots, and photographs. And it was only the beginning of the story.
6. The US was struck by what felt like an endless series of mass shootings, and they reverberated worldwide.
Bereaved families and survivors from Britain’s deadliest school shooting wrote an open letter, shared exclusively with BuzzFeed News, to students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
“We want you to know that change can happen,” they wrote, in a message of hope, after the massacre of 16 young children and their teacher in Dunblane, Scotland, in 1996 led to the banning of handguns and new laws on ownership. There has not been a school shooting in the UK since.
7. President Trump has called opioid use in the US a “national shame,” but the crisis is not just an American epidemic.
BuzzFeed News joined 22-year-old Bolu at a rehab center in Nigeria, which is facing catastrophic levels of opioid addiction.
The first sight that greeted Bolu in the center, run by Nigeria’s version of the US Drug Enforcement Administration, was a man lying facedown on the concrete floor, his legs tied to a pillar in the middle of the room. Also home to drug runners and violent gang members, the center was terrifyingly alien to Bolu’s comfortable middle-class upbringing. But it was his last hope of getting clean.
8. For the first time in 40 years, Zimbabwe held an election without Robert Mugabe on the ballot.
But how the hell do you run an election when your country’s been ruled by a dictator for 37 years?
BuzzFeed News reported from Harare on the array of women fighting for a say in how their country was going to be run.
9. In a year of historic firsts and threats of nuclear war involving North Korea, President Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore.
At a time when the world is obsessed with North Korea, the Kim dynasty, and its nuclear weapons, Lee Pyung is one of a few defectors sharing their stories in vlogs and livestreams in South Korea.
BuzzFeed News spoke to the 25-year-old, who escaped North Korea at age 11, about the responsibility of explaining what life was like in the North to millions of viewers in the South.
10. As well as the North Korea summit, Trump met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, and caused havoc at a number of meetings of world leaders.
At the G7 summit in Canada in June, the ink on the deal was still wet when President Trump — in a tweet — decided to pull out of a joint statement by the group. But as BuzzFeed News revealed, US officials did not act upon the tweet, meaning the US effectively endorsed the final statement after all.
Diplomatic sources told BuzzFeed News that at the same summit, Trump told the leaders of the world’s most advanced economies that Crimea is Russian because everyone speaks Russian there.
In September, Trump gave a speech at the UN that was met by widespread laughter when he said his administration had “accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country.”
The president said during a news conference afterward that people “weren’t laughing at me, they were laughing with me.” Diplomats told BuzzFeed News that, no, they were definitely laughing at him.
11. The Mueller probe aside, Russia’s actions on the world stage once again came into sharp focus in 2018.
In July, a Russian woman named Maria Butina was arrested in Washington, DC, charged with being a Russian agent. Butina had worked for years as a gun rights activist in the US, cultivating relationships with conservative Republican politicians.
BuzzFeed News revealed how her journey to the capital had begun in South Dakota, giving her an opportunity to learn about Americans on a local level — and learn that gun rights was the winning issue to enable her to get close to conservatives.
It’s hard to tell how much of the story Butina told Americans about herself for years was real — but as we reported, it is clear that in Butina the Russian government either found or created an irresistible persona for US conservatives.
Her story, of a scrappy girl from Siberia fighting for gun rights in Russia, was carefully calibrated to show a passion for self-defense, a yearning for America’s easy access to guns, and a hint of criticism of Russia’s own laws.
We also profiled the woman who is proudly Russia’s troll-in-chief, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova.
Combative and aggressive, her style has mimicked Russia’s increasing belligerence, both at home and abroad.
Meanwhile, Skype logs and other documents obtained by BuzzFeed News offered a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the Kremlin’s propaganda machine.
With our reporting partners, we revealed how the Russian government discreetly funded a group of seemingly independent news websites in Eastern Europe, using them to pump out stories dictated to them by the Kremlin.
12. In Mexico, people overwhelmingly voted for a new president in the hope of radical change, but the election itself was overshadowed by huge levels of violence.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador — or AMLO — was elected on a populist leftist platform, pledging to end the drug war without firing a single bullet. The scale of the challenge facing him was exposed in the weeks ahead of the election, however, as BuzzFeed News reported 113 politicians had been killed during the campaign, even with the vote two weeks away.
In a further sign of the legacy of previous administrations’ policies, BuzzFeed News exclusively revealed how the Mexican government had quietly accepted a $25.5 million payout from BP to free the oil giant of responsibility for polluting Mexican waters after the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
13. The murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October was one of the biggest stories of the year.
The Trump administration is still under huge pressure to reappraise US–Saudi relations in light of Khashoggi’s murder, but Trump has refused to apportion blame to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, preferring to highlight the relationship’s importance for arms deals and containing Iran.
BuzzFeed News reported prior to Khashoggi’s death how Trump’s increasingly aggressive Iran strategy has its roots in Cold War history, informed by the actions of Ronald Reagan against the Soviet Union, and specifically an out-of-print book published in 1994.
We also reported on one of the biggest surprises of the Khashoggi murder — that the Saudis thought they could get away with it.
Photo recognition technology and the growth of CCTV surveillance have made operations like the one that killed Khashoggi impossible to keep covert.
14. In Brazil, a far-right populist who has praised the country’s military dictatorships was elected president.
Jair Bolsonaro was elected on the back of racist, sexist, and anti-gay rhetoric, but as BuzzFeed News reported in the aftermath of his election, the era of being surprised at this kind of politics is over — this is how we radicalized the world.
BuzzFeed News also spoke to the two black trans women who made history in the elections that brought Bolsonaro to power. Erika Hilton and Erica Malunguinho are not afraid of Brazil’s new far-right president, but they are under no illusions about the struggle ahead.
15. And finally, in Syria, a grim milestone of seven years of civil war was reached.
Seven years after the war began, and as the Russia-supported regime tightened its control on the country, BuzzFeed News asked whether anyone was still paying attention, and if people had become immune to the constant stream of horrific images and videos being posted online.
Our analysis found that the number of shares on the most-read stories about Syria — across all publishers — has fallen dramatically in little over a year. ●
This post has been substantially revised due to an editor's error.