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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

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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Education

Surrey Libraries Support Learners Obtain Google IT Support Certificate

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Graduates from the first cohort of the Google IT Support Certificate program along with the Honourable Harry Bains, MLA, Jinny Simms, MLA, and Councillor Mandeep Nagra, just after receiving their certificates on January 24.

Surrey, BC – BC’s tech industry is booming and there aren’t enough people with the skills required to fill the jobs that are available. This is what Google Canada realized and to help remedy the situation, last year they teamed up with Surrey Libraries and three other libraries across Canada to provide scholarships to hundreds of individuals to get trained in the Google IT Support Certificate Program (GISC Program).

Google’s IT Support Professional Certificate is aimed to prepare participants to become ready for an entry-level job in IT support in about eight months, with no experience required. This certificate is part of Grow with Google, an initiative focused on helping everyone across Canada access the best of Google’s training and tools to grow their skills, careers and business.

In addition to identifying students eligible to receive the Google scholarships, Surrey Libraries provided the students with online instruction and in-person learning facilitation by a dedicated Google IT Support Certificate Site Lead Librarian. Scholarships and funding for the Site Lead Librarian were supported through a generous Google.org grant.

The first cohort of 50 learners started the program in April 2019 and so far, 37 students from that group have finished the GISC Program and some have already landed jobs in the tech industry. Learners were provided wraparound supports including learning circles, opportunity to tour a local tech company, as well as presentations and workshops from the City of Surrey’s IT Department, WorkBC, and TLC Solutions.

“This program was very well run and helpful in getting my foot in the door to IT. I received amazing support from Surrey Libraries, and I enjoyed a lot of aspects of how this course was set up and how it was executed.” Said graduating student, Monica Mah “Having other learners to turn to weekly was very helpful in providing motivation, knowledge, and amusement. I feel more confident to be able to look for a job in the IT field.”

“We’re so pleased Surrey Libraries was chosen by Google to help support this program,” said Surinder Bhogal, Chief Librarian at Surrey Libraries. “Surrey is the fastest growing city in British Columbia, with a diverse and talented population. The program also aligns well with one of the library’s objectives to support digital skills development in preparation for a stronger workforce.”

A second set of learners are about to embark on their learning journey in March. People interested in the GISC Program are invited to attend an information session on Wednesday, January 29 at Surrey Libraries – City Centre Branch, Room 402 at 6:30 pm. Call 604-598-7426 to register.

About Surrey Libraries

Surrey Libraries is a valued community institution and one of the most-used community services in Surrey. The library welcomes around 2.7 million visits to our nine branches each year, and over two million visits to our online resources. Surrey Libraries runs hundreds of programs and services for children, youth, and adults to support their diverse learning needs. Serving the community since 1983, Surrey Libraries strives to connect people, spark curiosity, and inspire learning. Find out more about Surrey Libraries and our diverse programming at surreylibraries.ca.

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SFU’s next president eyes “new era of potential”

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University appoints Joy Johnson as its 10th president and vice-chancellor

Simon Fraser University’s Board of Governors has appointed professor Joy Johnson as the university’s next president and vice-chancellor, following an extensive community consultation and international search process.

Johnson, SFU’s current vice-president research and international, will take office on Sept. 1 2020. She succeeds Andrew Petter, who completes his term on August 31 after a decade of distinguished service.

“Over the course of this competitive process, professor Johnson stood out from other candidates for her depth of academic and research experience, commitment to students and enthusiasm for the future of SFU,” says Fiona Robin, chair of SFU’s Board of Governors and chair of the presidential search committee. “We are thrilled to announce that professor Johnson is the successful candidate and look forward to welcoming her into this new role.”

A strong supporter of academic and research excellence, and a leader in nurturing and building community partnerships, Johnson is also committed to vibrant student learning experiences, equity, diversity and inclusion, and Aboriginal reconciliation.

“SFU is a remarkable institution at a remarkable time in its history,” says Johnson, who becomes the university’s second woman president. “We continue to attract world-class students, faculty, and staff, and we are stepping into a new era of potential.”

Johnson, who has been in her current role at SFU since 2014, is widely respected in academic and research communities. Under her leadership, SFU’s research income has grown from $103 million in 2014 to $161 million today, making it the fastest growing research income of any university in Canada.

During her tenure, the university established its innovation strategy—SFU Innovates—launched its big data initiative, secured two Canada 150 chairs and became host to Canada’s most powerful academic supercomputer. The university also became a founding partner in the City of Surrey’s burgeoning Health and Technology District and established collaborative research partnerships around the world.

“I love being part of SFU—so much is possible here as we develop new learning opportunities, enhance student support and services, expand our facilities, strengthen our research infrastructure, and forge new partnerships,” says Johnson. “It’s my great privilege to have the opportunity to serve as President and Vice-Chancellor, and I look forward to getting started.”

BACKGROUND

Johnson completed her PhD in nursing at the University of Alberta, and is a former professor in the University of British Columbia’s School of Nursing.

Before joining SFU, Johnson had an impressive academic and research career in the health sciences. Her research focused on how environments and social dynamics influence health outcomes and opportunities, particularly among youth.

Her commitment to research led to her role as scientific director with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Institute of Gender and Health, setting the institute’s strategy and building opportunities for researchers.

Johnson is an elected Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (2019).

She is the co-author of more than 180 peer-reviewed manuscripts and has led several initiatives that mobilized research insights to influence practice and policy.

Read more about Joy Johnson

About Simon Fraser University:

As Canada’s engaged university, SFU works with communities, organizations and partners to create, share and embrace knowledge that improves life and generates real change. We deliver a world-class education with lifelong value that shapes change-makers, visionaries and problem-solvers. We connect research and innovation to entrepreneurship and industry to deliver sustainable, relevant solutions to today’s problems. With campuses in British Columbia’s three largest cities – Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey – SFU has eight faculties that deliver 193 undergraduate degree programs and 127 graduate degree programs to more than 35,000 students. The university now boasts more than 160,000 alumni residing in 143 countries.

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Surrey Libraries Recommends Books to Read Before the New Decade Dawns

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Fill your holiday season with literacy, light and joy!

Surrey, BC – Readers in Surrey like a good thriller as several mysteries and thrillers topped the list of adult fiction books that were the most borrowed from the library in 2019.

If you’re in the mood for a crime thriller, Surrey Libraries staff recommend David Baldacci’s Redemption or Long Road to Mercy. Surprisingly, older titles including George Orwell’s classic dystopia 1984, eerie parable Animal Farm, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and J.D. Salinger’s classic teen angst novel Catcher in the Rye also made the most borrowed list.

Here’s the top 20 adult fiction books borrowed from Surrey Libraries in 2019:

Rank Book Title Author
1 Where the Crawdads Sing Delia Owens
2 Past Tense Lee Child
3 Dark Sacred Night Michael Connelly
4 The Reckoning John Grisham
5 1984 George Orwell
6 Kingdom of the Blind Louise Penny
7 Long Road to Mercy David Baldacci
8 Tattooist of Auschwitz Heather Morris
9 Clockmakers Daughter Kate Morton
10 Nine Perfect Strangers Liane Moriarty
11 To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee
12 Crazy Rich Asians Kevin Kwan
13 Redemption David Baldacci
14 A Spark of Light Jodi Picoult
15 Washington Black Esi Edugyan
16 The Great Alone Kristin Hannah
17 Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury
18 A Better Man Louise Penny
19 Animal Farm George Orwell
20 Catcher in the Rye J.D. Salinger

People interested in borrowing any of these titles can find the complete list and check for their availability online at https://bit.ly/35AmBd7.

If there isn’t something on the list of the most borrowed books in 2019 that is of interest, Surrey Libraries staff have also put together their picks of the best titles from 2019 called Fireside Reads for Winter. The list and availability of titles can be found online at https://bit.ly/2rbhcdF.

Surrey Libraries also has eBooks and eAudiobooks available for patrons to download and read on their phones or tablets. Visit www.surreylibraries.ca to find a title that interests you!

Here’s the top 15 eBooks borrowed from Surrey Libraries in 2019:

Rank eBook Title Author
1 Little Fires Everywhere Celeste Ng
2 Past tense Lee Child
3 The Reckoning John Grisham
4 Nine Perfect Strangers Liane Moriarty
5 Long Road to Mercy David Baldacci
6 Dark Sacred Night Michael Connelly
7 Becoming Michelle Obama
8 Educated Tara Westover
9 The Wife between Us Greer Hendricks
10 Where the Crawdads Sing Delia Owens
11 Tattooist of Auschwitz Heather Morris
12 The Rooster Bar John Grisham
13 Kingdom of the Blind Louise Penny
14 The Great Alone Kristin Hannah
15 The Fallen David Baldacci

About Surrey Libraries

Surrey Libraries is a valued community institution and one of the most-used community services in Surrey. The Library welcomes around 2.7 million visits to its nine branches each year, and over two million visits to its online resources. Surrey Libraries runs hundreds of programs and services for children, youth, and adults to support their diverse learning needs. Serving the community since 1983, Surrey Libraries strives to be a leader in supporting creativity, connectivity, literacy, and lifelong learning. Find out more about Surrey Libraries and our diverse programming at www.surreylibraries.ca.

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