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.
Surrey’s Sullivan Heights Secondary opens new expansion for incoming students
Students at Sullivan Heights Secondary will be learning in 28 new classrooms this school year. Construction on a four-storey, $34.3-million expansion has finished and is ready to welcome students for the fall semester.
“Our board is so excited to welcome Sullivan Heights students into this new addition,” said Laurie Larsen, chair of the Surrey Board of Education, in a press release. “Students and families in the community have been waiting patiently for this additional space, which will allow staff and students to move out of a portable and into a bright, open, and engaging learning space.”
The expansion includes a new outdoor basketball court alongside a gym and a connector to the existing building, so there is a shared main entry and admin workplace. There are also additions to align with 21st-century learning objectives like breakout spaces, education preparation areas, lifestyle labs, a science super lab, large multi-purpose spaces that can be used by the community after hours, and a group of computer labs organized to maximize collaboration and innovation.
This new space brings the total number of classrooms at Sullivan up to 68, the most of any school in the district, and will provide seating for up to 1,700 students.
The expansion has been needed for a while—the school had a capacity of 1,000 students but enrolled 1,646 students in October 2021.
The high school was using 14 portables to accommodate all the students, but those will now be removed.
This expansion will also allow Sullivan to move away from the staggered scheduling system it was forced to adopt to accommodate the growing number of students.
In the same press release, principal David Baldasso said, “This 700-seat addition means that we are no longer on an extended day, students and staff will more easily be able to collaborate, and extracurricular activities are no longer impacted by the length of the day. These new modern learning spaces such as the tech lab, maker spaces and foods labs will also allow us to offer more choice and opportunities to students for years to come.”
Surrey Libraries Offers Access to O’Reilly eBooks and Videos
Surrey Libraries is excited to announce the addition of O’Reilly eBooks to its list of online resources. This platform offers over 35,000 eBooks and 30,000 hours of video courses on technology, business, design, science, engineering, travel, hobbies, health and more, all free with a Surrey Libraries card!
O’Reilly has books and videos for makers, gamers and tinkerers. There are more than 100 hobbyist titles including a STEAM Lab for Kids and The Lego Build-It Book, Volumes 1 & 2. More than 900 books from the “For Dummies” series are included, as well as over 150 titles on job-seeking and career development.
The resource also has technology learning paths like SQL Fundamentals – SQL for Data Analysis and Database Design, case studies like “Pinterest’s Journey to the Cloud,” and countless hours of video instruction on topics like Microsoft Azure Fundamentals, Linux Fundamentals, or Amazon Web Services.
We’re excited to welcome you back to our branches! Check our website for information on hours and available services and what we’re doing to keep everyone safe.
Canada’s Top Digital Marketing School Partners with MNBC to Launch Scholarships
Métis Nation BC and Jelly Academy collaborated in order to provide growth within New Collar Employment for Indigenous people and together provided 20 scholarships to Jelly Academy’s digital marketing course. Thanks to this partnership, there will be more Indigenous people with the skills and know-how when it comes to online and digital marketing.
The Indigenous skills training that have previously been available have typically focused on great blue collar jobs such as construction and trades, but this collaboration provides a chance to diversify the available training for Indigenous people with a new focus within varying industries.
Increased demand for digital marketing
Online marketing has had a huge rise in demand especially since COVID-19 and the increased job opportunities opening up in Canada. Indeed reports that by February 2021, jobs in media, marketing, and communications jobs had clicks higher than the economy average per posting, which is why having the necessary skills and training will give job seekers an advantage. Additionally, Indeed reported 28.9% job growth for digital advertising during a forecast period of 2019-2024.
Jelly Academy has been operating for 5 years with over 600 grads with a successful hiring rate. Over 82% of grads who come with an existing employment get a raise or promotion within 6 months of graduating the course and over 94% of grads who are students or without employment get a job within 4 months of graduation. This is due to in-depth training within the course as well as the additional skill-enhancing certifications provided through Jelly Academy.
The program focuses on equipping students with the certificates that hiring managers from agencies and individual brands are looking for. Jelly Academy grads will leave the course with evergreen Hootsuite, Google, SEMRush and Facebook certifications that each have transferable skills.
While these additional certifications can be taken online through providers such as Udemy; data shows about 96% of Udemy students don’t finish a course whereas an official curriculum from Jelly Academy will aid students in completing relevant courses.
By providing these new scholarships for a course that has a successful hiring rate, it allows for further career opportunities for Indigenous members of Métis Nation BC.
Jelly Academy was created by industry expert, Darian Kovacs, in order to have a course that provided the foundation in digital marketing. The course is taught by other industry professionals who provide clear understanding in online marketing topics such as social media, PR, SEO, Google Ads, Google Analytics, and Facebook Ads. Learn more about Jelly Academy here.
Surrey Students Awarded Scholarships, New Scholarship Created By Cloverdale Rodeo Youth Initiative Foundation.
CLOVERDALE, BC: In June 2020, while the world came to a halt due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the Cloverdale Rodeo & Country Fair postponed, one of the things that didn’t stop was the Cloverdale Rodeo Youth Initiative Foundation annual scholarship. Seven grade 12 students from across the city of Surrey were awarded $1000.00 scholarships for post-secondary education by the Cloverdale Rodeo Youth Initiative Foundation.
“As a Board we collectively agreed to proceed with awarding scholarships during the pandemic, whether there was a rodeo or not, because people are in a time of financial need more than ever, and this is not a time to hold back, but to give and lend a helping hand”, says Foundation Chair Nicole Reader.”
The recipients, all of whom were part of the graduating class of 2020, will use their $1000.00 scholarships for a variety of post secondary institutions across British Columbia.
The 2020 Cloverdale Rodeo Youth Foundation recipients:
- Vincent Labador – Johnston Heights Secondary
- Nisha Niijar – Fleetwood Park Secondary
- Aashna Thapar – North Surrey Secondary
- Natasha Kalinic – Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary
- Alexander Thornton – Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary
- Taya Suttill – Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary
- Skye Graham – Clayton Heights Secondary
“Each of these graduates are incredibly deserving of these awards,” says Foundation Chair Nicole Reader. “The entire community should be proud of these young people.”
The foundation adjusted its scholarship criteria, so applicants did not require having previous volunteer experience at the Cloverdale Rodeo in order to be eligible, as long as they had volunteer experience with another organization.
The Cloverdale Rodeo Youth Initiative Foundation will also be awarding scholarships this year under its new criteria. The application deadline for the 2021 scholarships is Friday, May 21st, 2021.
Scholarship applications can be found here.
Not only has the Cloverdale Rodeo Youth Initiative Foundation continued to support the youth community throughout the pandemic, but the organization has also been provided the opportunity to establish an additional scholarship through its organization called The Isabella Olson Scholarship Award “Rising Above”.
The “Rising Above” scholarship was established in loving memory of a Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary student, Isabella Olson, on behalf of her loving family. Isabella was an extraordinary and inspirational young individual who strived to ‘Rise Above’ the various obstacles she faced while always remaining determined to succeed.
To honour Isabella’s legacy a $2,000.00 scholarship has been created to recognize an inspiring Lord Tweedsmuir grade 12 student who is “Rising Above” obstacles, whether personal, mental health, bullying, or family related complications.
A student who has the determination to continue doing well in school, who may participate in school activities community services and/or may have work experience.
“Isabella’s inspiring spirit was a source of strength to all who knew her, and it is our esteemed honour to be able to present this award and assisting inspiring students in achieving their dreams, says Foundation Chair Reader.”
The application deadline for the 2021 Isabella Olson Scholarship Award “Rising Above” is Friday, May 21st, 2021.
Scholarship application can be found here.
Fossil Discovery Deepens Snakefly Mystery
Fossil discoveries often help answer long-standing questions about how our modern world came to be. However, sometimes they only deepen the mystery—as a recent discovery of four new species of ancient insects in British Columbia and Washington state is proving.
The fossil species, recently discovered by paleontologists Bruce Archibald of Simon Fraser University and Vladimir Makarkin of the Russian Academy of Sciences, are from a group of insects known as snakeflies, now shown to have lived in the region some 50 million years ago.
The findings, published in Zootaxa, raise more questions about the evolutionary history of the distinctly elongated insects and why they live where they do today.
Snakeflies are slender, predatory insects that are native to the Northern Hemisphere and noticeably absent from tropical regions. Scientists have traditionally believed that they require cold winters to trigger development into adults, restricting them almost exclusively to regions that experience winter frost days or colder. However, the fossil sites where the ancient species were found experienced a climate that doesn’t fit with this explanation.
“The average yearly climate was moderate like Vancouver or Seattle today, but importantly, with very mild winters of few or no frost days,” says Archibald. “We can see this by the presence of frost intolerant plants like palms living in these forests along with more northerly plants like spruce.”
The fossil sites where the ancient species were discovered span 1,000 kilometers of an ancient upland from Driftwood Canyon in northwest B.C. to the McAbee fossil site in southern B.C., and all the way to the city of Republic in northern Washington.
According to Archibald, the paleontologists found species of two families of snakeflies in these fossil sites, both of which had previously been thought to require cold winters to survive. Each family appears to have independently adapted to cold winters after these fossil species lived.
“Now we know that earlier in their evolutionary history, snakeflies were living in climates with very mild winters and so the question becomes why didn’t they keep their ability to live in such regions? Why aren’t snakeflies found in the tropics today?”
Pervious fossil insect discoveries in these sites have shown connections with Europe, Pacific coastal Russia, and even Australia.
Archibald emphasizes that understanding how life adapts to climate by looking deep into the past helps explain why species are distributed across the globe today, and can perhaps help foresee how further change in climate may affect that pattern.
“Such discoveries are coming out of these fossil sites all the time,” says Archibald. “They’re an important part of our heritage.”
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 37,000 students. The university now boasts more than 165,000 alumni residing in 143 countries.
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