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Confronting the Disinformation Age

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The SFU Public Square organized their annual community summit between April 10-18, 2019. This year’s theme was ‘Confronting the Disinformation Age’. There is a growing concern around the world about the manipulation of information and the use of artificial intelligence to customize messaging and communications to individuals.

Leading thinkers and activists were invited by the SFU Public Square for a talk on this topic at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on April 16th in the evening. The speakers for this signature event were David Frum political commentator, Sue Gardener ex Director of the Wikimedia Foundation and Christopher Wylie, Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, in a conversation moderated by the CBC’s Ian Hanomansing.

From the start the discussion was highly informative and engaging. David Frum gave examples of the pervasive fake news in the news cycle. “For instance a story broke that the Pope of Vatican endorsed the winning candidate during the 2016 American election. This was a powerfully persuasive news piece for some potential voters but it was completely untrue “explained Frum.

Ian Hanomansing asked how disinformation is affecting Canadians. The panelists suggested that Canadian politics is currently not as polarised as in some other countries. However disinformation campaigns may seek to divide and disengage the public for example through ethnic language media. Sue Gardener and David Frum reminded that such news is often planted on the screens of individuals in the community that are most likely to believe it and take disruptive action to threaten our social fabric as a result of the fake news stories.

For instance during recent negotiations regarding the extradition of the CFO of the Chinese company Huawei Technologies there have been fake news stories targeting the ethnic Chinese community in Canada. These and other examples demonstrate the ease with which inexpensive but potent fake news campaigns can effectively sway public opinion said the panelists. Such targeted messaging can therefore incite disharmony and destruction of the public trust in public institutions, the media and the government itself.

Other examples given during their conversation included the ‘anti vaccination myths’ spreading among local communities. This can also contribute to public health issues such as the measles outbreak in Vancouver. The speakers considered another powerful example of fabricated facts spread by the climate change deniers and their efforts to thwart united action to mitigate the effects of climate change. Christopher Wylie further gave the example of the NAFTA trade negotiations during which Canadians were vulnerable to some propaganda pertaining to particular dairy products or other agricultural products.

Touching on his experiences at Cambridge Analytica, Christopher Wylie outlined the potentially dangerous outcomes of modern technological advances that could promote ‘surveillance capitalism’. Modern technology has enabled fast communication. But as people ring or text or email their friends and colleagues, the content of their communication is deciphered by algorithms that use artificial intelligence and then seemingly relevant news stories populate their screen space. Unfortunately mis-use of this technology can mislead readers by taking advantage of their confirmation bias perhaps i.e. people’s tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s pre-existing beliefs or hypotheses.

David Frum warned against viewing this whole topic through the lens of ‘where technology went wrong’. He reiterated that this is a demand problem not a supply problem. He was referring to the fact that people continue to demonstrate an appetite for disinformation even when it sows division among communities based on gender, ethnicity, race, age or other such factors due to personal discontent. He reminded that in order to resist such campaigns people have to be supported and a robust middle class would be more likely withstand and question such disinformation campaigns.

Event organizer Kady Wong explained the context and history of the annual summits emphasizing the collective impact of the community Summit. She shared information about the ‘conversation circles’ that were planned after the Talk that evening. These were facilitated discussions planned as three breakout sessions that enabled attending audiences to give their views and engage with the topic actively. The event attracted a wide range of people with many different interests, professions and perspectives.

One of the visitors who chose to remain anonymous talked about the breach of privacy resulting from when information about individuals is recorded. “I am a librarian and therefore a custodian of information. Young people especially are not thinking about how long data is stored now a days and what information about them will still be in the public domain when they are much older”.

The event attracted audiences of all ages. Ted, a young man was keen to attend the Talk to learn more about tech trends and to get a perspective on how to handle the shifting interface with media. “Youth are used to the ubiquitous data collection ., It is so ingrained in our daily lives. I continue to use Facebook everyday as my main source of communication.

I don’t really think about it. It probably does not influence me” he opined. A couple of high school students were attending courtesy of the ‘Young Entrepreneur Leadership Lunch Bag’ Charity. They were attending to gain a better understanding of the impact of smart technologies. Their own business idea was to create a ‘smart food system’ where devices and appliances that are part of the food chain could record food usage and assist in preventing waste.

The young girls Isabella and Taryn acknowledged that “there was an ongoing discussion about who can access the database regarding nutritional value in the food consumed by the users and the tradeoff had to be accurately outlined in our business plan”

Mike Larsen, President of the ‘BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association’ was attending the event. He gave his views on the blurring lines between private communication, social networking and access of information from public sources.

He acknowledged that the same technology which was perceived as intrusive by the older generation is now becoming an inevitable aspect of daily life. But he suggested that as citizens we must be vigilant against misuse and overreach.

The Association was formed in 1991 and advocated for the Freedom of Information Protection Act that was passed in BC. Prior to the Talk there was an opportunity for attendees to attend a small exhibition in the foyer titled ‘The Glass Room’ which informed visitors of how technology is pervasive and sometimes invasive.

When people use gadgets as devices such as a smart TV or a smart Vacuum Cleaner they are giving away information about individual lifestyle choices and tastes which can then be used to personalize the messaging and advertisements sent their way. Volunteers were assigned to assist attendees at the Exhbition. Volunteers like Pat have been attending since over three years and mentioned that this year’s theme was particularly relevant. She echoed concerns about big brother watching which could lead to an Orwellian society. “It has been informative and it has got me thinking. I am likely to change some of my lifestyle as a result of what I learnt today “said another volunteer attending the event.


Educate yourself: Check out this recommended reading list from SFU’s 2019 Community Summit: Confronting the Disinformation Age.

Asmita has been blogging for several years about food security, travels, faith, arts and culture. She enjoys community reporting to participate in the local conversation. She founded ‘Culture Chats’ promoting social connections through shared interests in literary and other arts. Asmita has over ten years’ experience in marketing and communications. Her professional interests include business strategy and relations, research and community development. Her family and two little ones are the center of her world.

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Education

New Hands-On Power Girls Program Empowers Racialized Girls To Embrace STEM

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The joint program from DIVERSE CITY and SFU will build connection and space for migrant girls aged 9–12 in the STEM sector.

Surrey, BC, October 19, 2020 – In today’s fast-paced and ever-changing world, jobs within science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) make up a large sector of the job market. These jobs, although incredibly important and in demand, are also overwhelmingly gendered.

While the majority of university graduates are female, according to Statistics Canada, only 39 per cent hold a degree in STEM. Even within this limited group, only three out of 10 women actually work in the STEM sector post-graduation. This number drops even lower when it comes to racialized women.

The lack of women in STEM, also termed “the leaky STEM pipeline,” has been traced back to childhood. Studies have shown that girls, for various, sometimes unseen reasons, are more likely to turn away from STEM than their male classmates. Research conducted by the Girl Guides of Canada shows that girls stop pursuing STEM, for various reasons such as lack of representation and deeply ingrained social norms, as early as Grade 8.

Through the collaboration of DIVERSEcity and the Science ALIVE program at Simon Fraser University’s Faculty of Applied Science, with funding from the Canadian Women’s Foundation, the Power Girls program has been created to provide a dedicated space to create a new approach to STEM programming.

Aimed at migrant girls aged 9–12 years old, this program hopes that through hands-on and specific guidance, these girls will be able to pursue a path to STEM while breaking down social norms and stereotype barriers that may hinder their path.

“We are very excited to collaborate with DIVERSEcity on this meaningful project to empower girls in science and engineering,” says Jinny Sim, Manager, Outreach and Diversity at SFU. “There is still a lack of women in STEM, especially from the BIPOC groups.

We can’t wait to meet the girls and show how fun science and engineering can be and how they are used in our everyday lives for social good.” Classes will begin on October 31 and, although they will be online for now, students can expect experiential learning kits delivered to their homes.

Sim further explains, “This year, the girls will go through a project-based engineering curriculum to explore the various field of engineering, learn about the great achievements from female engineers and build their own project that demonstrates their learning. The girls will leave the program with confidence, a sense of accomplishment and motivation to continue studying STEM!”

“We know that a lot of these young girls just need the space and proper supports in place and they will thrive. It isn’t easy to follow a path when the stereotypical and idealized mathematician or scientist doesn’t look like you,” explains Jessica Forster Broomfield, Manager, Children’s Programs at DIVERSEcity. “We want this program to act as a motivator for racialized girls to make their space and to change the STEM sector for generations to come.”

“Hopefully by addressing the issue head-on, we will be helping create a new type of future where anyone who is passionate enough can pursue the career of their choice without having to second-guess if they fit a certain mold or not,” added Forster Broomfield.

Free to students, the Power Girls program is funded through the Canadian Women’s Foundation, in partnership with the captain of the Canadian national soccer team, Christine Sinclair.

About DIVERSE CITY Community Resources Society

At DIVERSEcity Community Resources Society, we empower newcomers and other diverse communities to build the life they want in Canada. Our free, multilingual programs and services in language, settlement, employment and counselling provide them with a foundation of information, skills and connections to achieve their goals.

Our social enterprises — Interpretation and Translation Services, Skills Training Centre and Language Testing Centre — support this work, too. As a registered charity in Surrey and the Lower Mainland with a 40+ year history, we champion diversity and inclusion for all, and our message is clear — everyone belongs here.

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Education

Surrey Libraries Announces Winners of 2020 Young Adult Writing Contest

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Surrey, BC — Surrey Libraries is pleased to announce and congratulate the winners of the 2020 Surrey Libraries Young Adult Writing Contest. The winners were acknowledged at a Virtual Awards Gala on Wednesday, October 14.

The Young Adult Writing Contest is an annual writing competition for youth aged 12-18. Since launching the contest in 1987, Surrey Libraries has received over 6,500 entries from aspiring young writers across Surrey. The contest is free to enter and young writers submit entries to one of the four contest categories: short stories, poems, comics, and a random category for other types of writing such as essays, screenplays, or song lyrics.

Rena Su, a multi-year entrant and winner in the contest, credits the contest with giving her not only more confidence in her writing, but also an opening to other opportunities, saying at the Gala:

“With the seemingly small confidence booster that Surrey Libraries gave me, I was able to gain enough momentum to begin sharing my work. In between flurries of rejections and learning and improvement, I was able to land some of my first literary magazine publications and I also connected with people online and gained an editor position at a youth lit magazine.”

“Every year our judges are truly impressed by the level of creativity and diversity in the entries,” explains Kelly Lau, Youth Services Librarian and contest coordinator. “It’s always a pleasant challenge to select the winning entries.”

This popular program is organized by the dynamic youth library staff at Surrey Libraries and is made possible through the generous support of champion sponsors Khalsa Credit Union and Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

An anthology of the winners’ work will be available online, to check out from Surrey Libraries branches, or purchased for $8.00 at the end of November.

YOUNG ADULT WRITING CONTEST WINNERS 2020:

Junior Short Story

1st Place – “The Worker,” Gurleena Sukhija
2nd Place – “Number 98,” Sofia Lemay
3rd Place – “Clueless,” Tiffany Montefrio
Honourable Mention – “Watercolors,” Victoria Wang
Honourable Mention – “The Girl Who Visits Dreams,” Emma Hong

Senior Short Story

1st Place – “Saudade,” Akash Ranu
2nd Place – “An Attempt at Building a Coffin for Ma,” Yue Chen
3rd Place – “Separate Ways,” Carmen Campbell
Honourable Mention – “The Everything Tree,” Annie Huang
Honourable Mention – “Citylights,” Rena Su

Junior Poetry

1st Place – “Grow Up,” Gurleena Sukhjia
2nd Place – “Assimilation,” Alyana Amadeo
3rd Place – “Hirosaki Castle,” Richard Su
Honourable Mention – “Rabbit Hole,” Khushi Cheema
Honourable Mention – “SKIN,” Leigh Kathryn Baculi

Senior Poetry

1st Place – “Plum Tea,” Maggie Lu
2nd Place – “Ode to the Window,” Ava Popowitz
3rd Place – “Overthinker,” Yana Fershstein
Honourable Mention – “Quick Fixes,” Audrey Kemp
Honourable Mention – “Astronomical Alliteration,” Muskan Poddar

Random

1st Place –“Ethical Consumerism in a Capitalist State” (Essay), Muskan Guglani
2nd Place –“recounting that summer in which I woke, ate, slept, and repeated the motions mentioned above” (Creative Non-Fiction), Yue Chen
3rd Place –“Aletheia” (Essay), Dean Oh
Honourable Mention – “Crown in the Grave” (Song Lyrics), Gurshaan Chadha

Comics

1st Place – “Stairs of Life, Elevator to Heaven,” Yue Chen
2nd Place – “A Different Kind of Mind,” Stin Dang
3rd Place – “Quiescent,” Andrew Jung
Honourable Mention – “Stick Guy,” Seth Corbett

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Education

New Viking DNA Research Yields Unexpected Information About Who They Were

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In the popular imagination, Vikings were fearsome blonde-haired warriors from Scandinavia who used longboats to carry out raids across Europe in a brief but bloody reign of terror. But the reality is more complex, says SFU Archaeology Prof. Mark Collard.

Collard is a member of an international team of researchers that has just published the results of the world’s largest DNA sequencing of Viking skeletons, in this week’s edition of Nature.

Led by Prof. Eske Willerslev of the Universities of Cambridge and Copenhagen, the research team extracted and analysed\ DNA from the remains of 442 men, women and children.

The remains were recovered from archaeological sites in Scandinavia, the U.K., Ireland, Iceland, Greenland, Estonia, Ukraine, Poland and Russia, and mostly date to the Viking Age (ca. 750-1050 AD).

The team’s analyses yielded a number of findings. One of the most noteworthy is that contrary to what has often been assumed, Viking identity was not limited to people of Scandinavian ancestry—the team discovered that two skeletons from a Viking burial site in the Orkney Islands were of Scottish ancestry.

They also found evidence that there was significant gene flow into Scandinavia from the British Isles, Southern Europe, and Asia before and during the Viking Age, which further undermines the image of the Vikings as ‘pure’ Scandinavians. Another discovery that runs counter to the standard image of the Vikings is that many had brown hair, not blonde hair.

The analyses’ results also shed light on the Vikings’ activities. For example, consistent with patterns documented by historians and archaeologists, the team found that Vikings who travelled to England generally had Danish ancestry, while the majority of Vikings who travelled to Scotland, Ireland, Iceland and Greenland had Norwegian ancestry. In contrast, Vikings who headed east were mostly from Sweden.

Interestingly, says Collard, data revealed a number of close kin among the 442 individuals. Four members of a Viking raiding party interred in a boat burial in Estonia were found to be brothers, while two individuals buried 300 to 400 kilometers apart in Sweden were found to be cousins. Perhaps even more strikingly, the team identified a pair of second-degree male relatives (i.e. half-brothers, nephew-uncle, or grandson-grandfather) from two sites, one in Denmark and one in England.

“We have this image of well-connected Vikings mixing with each other, trading and going on raiding parties to fight Kings across Europe because this is what we see on television and read in books – but genetically we have shown for the first time that it wasn’t that kind of world. This study changes the perception of who a Viking actually was,” says Willerslev. “No one could have predicted these significant gene flows into Scandinavia from Southern Europe and Asia happened before and during the Viking Age.”

Of all the team’s discoveries, Collard is most intrigued by the identification of close kin. “While the ‘big picture’ discoveries are great, I was blown away by the fact that the analyses revealed the presence of four brothers in the Estonian boat burial, and a possible nephew and uncle on either side of the North Sea.” “These findings have important implications for social life in the Viking world, but we would’ve remained ignorant of them without ancient DNA. They really underscore the power of the approach for understanding history.”

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Enver Creek Secondary student awarded largest Canadian STEM scholarship

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For this year, number of scholarships doubles to 100

Tejash Poddar has been selected to receive a $100,000 Schulich Leader Scholarship to study Engineering at Simon Fraser University.

A graduate of Enver Creek Secondary in Surrey, Tejash will be entering the Engineering Science this Fall. He was selected by Ms A. van Dyk for his outstanding academic excellence and leadership achievements.

Given the unparalleled current disruption, there is a much greater need for students to get financial support in order to pursue their university education. This year, The Schulich Foundation has decided to award an additional 50 scholarships, for a total of 100.

“Schulich Leader Scholarships are the premiere STEM scholarship program in Canada and the world. With 100 outstanding students selected in Canada this year, it is all but guaranteed that this group will represent the best and brightest Canada has to offer. These future leaders will make great contributions to society, both on a national and global scale.

With their university expenses covered, they can focus their time on their studies, research projects, extracurriculars, and entrepreneurial ventures. They are the next generation of technology innovators,” says Mr. Schulich.

(When asked):
How did it feel to receive the notice of offer for the scholarship? How will this scholarship help you reach your goals?

(Tejash) :
“It was surreal first hearing the words over the phone – I could barely finish my sentences as I spoke. Looking back at it, everything really is a blur, but I am glad I was able to share the experience with my family around me.”

“I believe that sharing innovation is the key to driving innovation, and I plan to collaborate and grow with the people around me. I am incredibly grateful to be part of the Schulich Leader network, and I look forward to meeting new people and building relations in order to further pursue opportunities in the STEM field.”

About Schulich Leader Scholarships Canada

Recognizing the increasing importance and impact that STEM disciplines will have on the prosperity of future generations, businessman and philanthropist Seymour Schulich established this $100+ million scholarship fund in 2012 to encourage our best and brightest students to become Schulich Leader Scholars: the next generation of entrepreneurial-minded, technology innovators.

Through The Schulich Foundation, these prestigious entrance scholarships are awarded to 100 high school graduates this year, enrolling in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) undergraduate program at 20 partner universities in Canada.

Every high school in Canada can submit one Schulich Leader Nominee per academic year based on academic excellence in STEM, entrepreneurial leadership and financial need.

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Education

Hundreds Enjoy Surrey Libraries EXPO

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Surrey, BC – Hundreds of families joined Surrey Libraries at the inaugural Surrey Libraries EXPO on Saturday January 25th at the Guildford Town Centre to celebrate Family Literacy Day. The EXPO showcased some of the wonderful and varied programs and services offered at Surrey Libraries.

Participants got an opportunity to try their hand at stop motion animation, Dot and Dash Robotics, and have their photo turned into a vintage photo by using green screen technology. There was a mini escape room, and even a pop-up library where people could register for free library cards and borrow books, DVDs, and books on CD.

“This year’s theme for Family Literacy week is ‘Take 20!’ and encourages families to take 20 minutes and make learning together part of every day,” said Mayor Doug McCallum who was there to help kick off the EXPO. “We know literacy is an essential skill that directly impacts people’s quality of life and their ability to earn a good living. That’s why it’s so important to promote literacy and this is where Surrey Libraries plays an essential role in our community.”

Family Literacy Day is a national initiative involving annual literacy-related events and activities held at the end of January to raise awareness of the importance of literacy.

“We’re delighted that so many people came out to explore Surrey Libraries and our diverse programming,” said Surinder Bhogal, Chief Librarian. “The 21st century library offers so much more than books, and Surrey Libraries works to connect people, spark their curiosity and inspire learning.”

Surrey Libraries EXPO is one of many programs and events hosted by Surrey Libraries in support of literacy. More information on Surrey Libraries’ programs and events can be found at: https://surreylibraries.ca/events.

Children enjoying a puppet storytime at the EXPO.

Learning how snail mail worked before electronics.

A family having fun with the green screen technology.

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