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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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An Introductory History to Gut Microbiome Research

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What is your gut flora?

The gut flora or gut microbiome is a collection of microorganisms that live inside the digestive tract of every person. These microorganisms are helpful in proper digestion. An imbalance can have the opposite effect bringing about a variety of issues relating to the irritability of the stomach.

What is gut microbiome research and how is it used?

What is it?

It is estimated that every person has just as many microorganisms living in their stomach as they do cells in the entire body!

A collection of different fungi, bacteria, and viruses make up the trillions of microorganisms in the gut. Thankfully, it is estimated that only 10-20% of these microorganisms are ever shared to another person, meaning that your microflora focuses more on helping or maintaining your own body, as opposed to fighting outside threats and illness.

The microorganisms living in the body are different for every person. The amount of each depends on the individuals’ diet and lifestyle, as well as the presence or absence of the microorganisms, which can affect someones’ appetite, weight, and even mood.

Diet

You are what you eat?

You’ve surely heard the expression before, but scientists are finding that this could be closer to the truth than we previously thought.

The gut microbiome changes “rapidly” with diet. A group of six scientists noted a clear difference with diet in their study. The test changed subjects that consumed a low fat plant-based diet, to a “western” high fat/high sugar diet. The results showed a shift in the structure of the microbiome, as well as, the metabolic pathways and expression.

In simple terms, a high fat/high sugar diet changed the gut microbiome entirely in one day!

Scientists from ‘Scientific American‘ confirmed these findings, showing a clear difference in the microbiome, the type of microorganisms present in the gut, and the genes that they were expressing. The scientists noted changes occurring as quickly as 3-4 days from a change in what someone ate.

What is a Healthy Gut?

A healthy gut is different for every person, and unfortunately what works for one person, may not be the best for another person.

Scientists are unable to say with certainty which is good and which is not, but they hypothesize that those that eat a healthier plant-based diet will have healthier gut biomes. Gut microbiome research has come a long way and scientists are able to say with certainty that the gut biome directly affects the GI tract of the person.

Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Symptom (IBS), which can affect as many as 10-20% of U.S. adults, have been seen as a byproduct of a changed microbiome. The scientists that are doing gut microbiome research want the public to understand that there are no connections to made yet. The science community is not saying that one diet is necessarily bad or good, just that they affect the gut in different ways.

As said before, every persons’ gut is different and the things they need change, which makes it difficult to say what works best for the gut universally. Your gut biome began to develop when you were born and changes every day with your food choices, lifestyle decisions, and stress levels too.

Gut Microbiome Research: Signs and Symptoms

What is gut health?

It’s hard to say what exactly gut health is, due to the changes every person has in their own gut microflora and the diet they adhere to. There are a few symptoms and byproducts that can be used as signs though.

An upset stomach with repeated feelings of bloating, heartburn or gas could be directly related to the gut biome and the difficulties that the gut is having processing the food.

Other signs are seen in unintentional weight fluctuations and sleep problems. A change in weight going up or down without a change in exercise could be the result of an imbalanced gut. The gut may be unable to process the nutrients, store fat and regulate blood sugars as needed.

Insomnia, poor sleep and constant fatigue can be related to gut issues. The body’s supply of serotonin is produced in the gut, and serotonin not only affects mood but also sleep. This means that gut damage or issues could be affecting your mood and sleep as well!

Finally, gut microbiome research has shown that an increase in skin conditions like eczema could be due to gut health! Gut health plays a role in constant inflammation in the body. This inflammation can even lead to additional autoimmune issues if left unresolved.

Not all is lost though! If you can lower stress levels and get enough sleep you are already on your way to repairing any gut issues you may have!

Can it be fixed?

Is there any way to fix this?

The evidence is available to show that the gut is highly responsive to change both good and bad. More fruit gives rise to different microorganisms than high sugar foods do.

The gut will only work as well as the foods it is given, but there are other things that help to make this process easier. There are even supplements that help with digestion. These supplements can help the gut in different ways.

Probiotics can be introduced to help with the digestive process. Digestive enzymes can be taken if the body is lagging behind in its’ natural production of enzymes too.

Along with probiotics and digestive enzymes, peppermint oil, Pepin and other supplements can also be used to get your gut operating at it’s most effective.

The Gut

The gut plays a bigger part in our lives than we thought possible before, but the evidence is clear, what we eat will affect us! It’s important to take care of yourself as it will make your mood better, help you get more restful sleep and make you more energized! Supplements can also be used to help boost the gut, but every person is different.

Gut microbiome research has come a long way, and proven that our gut microbiomes are changing every day… like the saying goes put good in, get good out, your gut included!

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How to Be More Charismatic: 4 Ways to Develop Yourself

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Meeting new people is scary, and it’s natural to feel nervous. If you fear going out and talking to people, it’s possible you have a condition called social anxiety. But for most people, it doesn’t go that far.

We want to be liked, but we often fear that we’re annoying the people around us. That, in turn, just makes us more insecure. If you want to know how to be more charismatic, the first step is ditching the insecurity.

Confidence in yourself doesn’t mean you’re arrogant, but it does mean you accept the person you are. Keep reading for four tips on how to be more likable.

Be Interested

There’s a cliche that “Interesting people are interested.” That oversimplifies things a bit. Yet if you don’t know what to say in a social situation, start off by listening as much as possible.

How do you let people know you’re paying attention? Nodding along in agreement is one way to do this. But don’t nod so much that you sprain your neck.

Ditch the Phone

We’ve all been to parties where everyone sits on the couch and stares at their phones. But a party should not feel like the waiting room at your dentist’s office.

Yes, smartphones are cool. But checking your phone hundreds of times a day means you’re missing out on conversations.

Phones can act as a shield to keep us from feeling vulnerable. If possible, put your phone on silent before walking into a social situation.

If that’s not possible, at least limit how often you check it. Unless you get an urgent email or text message, once an hour is plenty.

Ask People Questions

You’ve been listening for a bit and are ready to speak up. But you’re not sure what to say.

Keep the focus on other people by asking them a question about what they just said. For instance, let’s say they mentioned a childhood in California. You can ask, “What part of California are you from?”

That’s an easy question that gives them an opening to discuss their life more. In turn, that makes them feel important.

What if you’re a girl wanting to flirt with a guy? This site has the best questions for catching a guy’s interest.

But don’t only ask questions. If you do that, you’ll start to sound like a game show host, or worse yet, a police interrogator.

Make (Some) Jokes About Yourself

Self-deprecation often helps put people at ease. But don’t go overboard with the jokes about yourself.

For instance, making a joke about the year you dropped out of college to try and make it as an actor in New York is fine. But saying, “I’m such an idiot. Someone should have thrown me into the Hudson River” is not.

You can admit you’re not perfect without acting like you hate yourself. People respond a lot better to the former than the latter.

Be More Charismatic

A few people seem like naturals, but they, too, had to learn how to be more charismatic.

Figuring out how to be more influential is a lengthy process. Give yourself some breathing room as you figure things out.

Want more tips on confidence? Bookmark our site for advice that will help you lead a bolder, better life.

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Be Prepared: 5 Self Defense Tips Every Woman Needs to Know

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Ladies, we’ve all been walking down a dimly lit street in the middle of the night, clutching our purse, hoping we get home before someone pops out from behind the bushes.

That feeling of vulnerability is arguably one of the scariest things a woman experiences. The worst part is we face it on a daily basis.

Knowing what to do in stressful situations can save you from experiencing something horrible. You can start by paying attention to this list of self defense tips.

Follow along and take note. You never know when this advice will come in handy. If it does, you’ll be glad you were here.

1. Be Aware

The most basic and most important point is to be aware of your surroundings. If you know what’s coming, you can be infinitely more prepared than if it takes you by surprise.

Part of being aware includes not walking with headphones on or staring at your phone. It’s important to listen to and see what’s going on around you, otherwise you make yourself an easy target. Those shuffling footsteps behind you might not be a good sign.

If you feel like someone is following you, cross the street. If they’re still following you, try to go into a store if you’re near one.

Also, don’t be afraid to look a person in the eye. It will make you seem confident and fearless. This makes it very easy to identify the person in a lineup if needed.

2. Follow Your Gut

If you ever feel unsafe in a situation, trust your gut. It’s always better to be too cautious than be the victim of a violent crime.

The most common instance in which a person dismisses their gut feeling is when they try to rationalize something. The thing about intuition is that it’s a learned feeling. Years of experience have led you to believe that funny feeling means something bad might happen, so don’t ignore it or brush it off as being paranoid.

3. Fight Back

If you ever find yourself in a situation that turns violent, don’t let fear cripple you. It’ll make you incredibly vulnerable to your attacker.

Next, figure out how you can fight back. If you’re being choked, lift your arms up over your sides and bring them down together, straight and fast to one side. Avoid grabbing your attacker’s hands and trying to pull them off your neck, this could compromise your breathing.

If you carry any self defense devices, use them. Pepper spray your attacker the first chance you get. You don’t want to be in a situation where you can’t reach your devices anymore.

4. Predicting Behavior

Another important part of self defense is realizing when a person’s behavior can turn violent. Most attackers begin by trying to gain your trust. They might try to lure you somewhere dark and empty.

Don’t fall for tricks like these. Even if it’s the most charming person you have ever met in your life, stay alert.

5. Take A Class

One of the best things you can do is take a class. Not only will it motivate you to stay fit, but it’ll also teach you everything you need to know about defending yourself. Feel safe and confident knowing these lessons have your best interests are at heart.

Self Defense Tips and More

If you find this list of self defense tips helpful, share it with your friends and keep visiting our site to be informed and aware of the changing circumstances.

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8 Great Exam Strategies for Nervous Test Takers

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Does your child get anxious before exams and evaluations? Do you get jittery every time you face a big evaluation? Do you ever wonder if there was a way to ease the tension?

Believe it or not, there are test-taking strategies available to help kids and adults who are anxious test takers. They can help you perform well and boost confidence at the same time.

Here are some exam strategies you need to know about.

1. Organize Your Review

It may seem overly simplistic to say that you or your child needs to prepare for exams in order to have less anxiety. Yet an organized study routine will go a long way toward making you less worried.

You may want to use flashcards for vocabulary or charts to help organize the differences between different concepts. You can also write numbered lists or use colors to help your child stay organized.

Your student may want to help you create the study materials, so they’re more accessible to them. However you prepare, make sure that key terms and concepts are clearly written and explained, so your child is able to easily focus.

If you need help creating an organized outline out of your child’s notetaking, you can actually hire a professional to help you. They may also be able to help you with papers and deadlines. You can learn more about that here.

2. Peace and Quiet

Your child may become overwhelmed if they study in a place that isn’t comfortable for them. Most people are able to concentrate best in a quiet environment with few distractions.

Make sure your child has a peaceful, predictable place to study each day. If there’s too much going on at home, you may need to visit the local library or coffee shop.

Some kids focus better with a little classical music playing or essential oils diffusing in the background. Tweak these factors a bit until you find the optimal environment for keeping your child in their best frame of mind.

3. Practice Your Performance

Is your child taking a spelling test that will require listening and writing, or a math test that will require critical thinking? You can help them prepare for the big day by administering a “test” similar to what they’ll experience.

You can use sample questions in textbooks to help you design questions like what they might see, or you can create a matching game for vocabulary. Either way, allowing your student to practice what they’ll be doing during the test will help them to relax and focus when crunch time comes.

4. Pacing

Pacing is important when it comes to test-taking. If, for example, your child is going to be taking a history test with an essay, you may want to practice this type of format with them. You’ll want to encourage them not to linger too long over multiple-choice questions if they need to write for at least part of the time.

5. Get Information About the Exam

While you won’t be able to find out test questions ahead of time, you may be able to get some answers about the format.

Is it a multiple-choice or short-answer test? Will there be a word box? Are students allowed to open their textbooks and locate answers?

Find out if the questions usually come more from class notes or textbook readings. Preparing with the test in mind can save you a lot of time learning unnecessary information.

6. Look for an Easy Question

Your child’s fears may have a tendency of paralyzing them before they even begin taking a test. They may become even more anxious if the first question is perplexing.

Once they see a question they are certain of the answer to, they may be able to unblock any mental hang-ups. The act of writing itself can actually help to relieve tension.

7. Stay Healthy

Eating well and exercising can actually boost your child’s brain performance. They can also serve to decrease their stress and promote levels of confidence.

Good food choices before an exam are high in protein and nutrients but low in empty calories and fat. Consider items that are high in antioxidants, such as fresh fruits and veggies, as well as nuts. Whole grains like oatmeal and lean meats like turkey and bacon are also great morning options.

You’ll also want to make sure your child gets plenty of hydration. Send them to school with their own water bottle, if possible. A lack of proper hydration can actually lead to headaches and dizziness.

8. Reward Often

Some students from elementary school to college will work best if they know there’s a reward for their best effort. Even if their grades increase by one letter grade, the promise of a reward such as a shopping trip or night out at the movies may be all it takes to push them to be their best.

If your rewards involve family together time or healthy social activity, you can encourage positive bonds as well as focused studying. Even something as simple as a walk up to the corner for ice cream may be enough to convince a young person to buckle down and prepare for something they’re a little nervous about.

The Best Exam Strategies Start With Prep

Exam strategies and techniques are as varied as the students who use them. With a little time and patience, you could find test preparation skills that your child will carry with them through a lifetime of learning. It will give them increased confidence and pride for years to come.

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5 Ways to Help Your Child Adapt to Virtual School

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With social distancing expected to be necessary for 2021 (and even possibly beyond), measures to keep people apart aren’t going to go away any time soon. That includes virtual school.

Virtual school has become a popular mode of learning, with classes conducted from a distance. Often this involves children sitting in front of a computer using some sort of video chat software such as Zoom, with someone teaching the class from their own home.

Although it’s an innovative solution for distance learning, some children might struggle to adapt to this new way of life. If your child is having some issues, here’s how you can help.

1. Keep Them in a Routine

It’s possible that they might have a little more flexibility with their schedule now. Some teachers will pre-record lessons and have the children watch them and complete an assignment, rather than teaching them live.

If this is the case, it’s important to keep your child in a routine they’re familiar with.

No playing video games or watching TV during usual school hours, only to start the lesson at 8 pm! Keeping them in a routine will help their adjustment.

2. Hire a Virtual Tutor

Just like if they were struggling with school in real life, a tutor can be a great resource. More and more tutors are operating virtually, and they cover a wide variety of subjects, ages, and levels.

Whatever your child is struggling with, there’s probably a tutor out there that can help.

3. Help Them Plan Time With Friends

Even children need an appropriate work-life balance. If they spend most of their time in virtual learning school and the rest of it on their own, they’re bound to find the adjustment difficult.

Help them plan time with friends. Even if it’s not safe to hang out with them in person, showing them how to use software for social time as well as online learning could be a huge benefit.

Your child can video chat with their friends, and even play some games during their downtime.

4. Create a No-Distractions Zone

If you have a corner of your house that you can carve out for them while they’re on their online learning platforms, that’s ideal. It should be their ‘no distractions’ zone — a place where they go to learn and leave when they’re done with school for the day.

This will ensure they don’t get the lines between school and fun blurred and can relax when they’re away from that zone.

5. Encourage Them to Share Their Concerns About Virtual School

You should always encourage your child to share any concerns they have and explain what they’re struggling with. Don’t shut them down or snap at them out of stress — hear them out and see if you can come up with a solution together.

This is an adjustment for you both, after all!

They Can Do This!

Encourage your child above all else! Let them know they can do this and have faith in yourself in helping them to adjust. Virtual school is always going to feel strange at first, but with the right tools and support, their education won’t suffer.

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