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Debunking social media interpretations of Ontario science table's school reopening advice – Ottawa Citizen

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The report arrives as students and parents wait for the Ontario government to announce a school reopening plan.

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After a report on how Ontario schools can reopen safely this fall was released on Monday, co-author Dr. Nisha Thampi, an infectious disease specialist at CHEO, was politely correcting people who mischaracterized its advice.

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Social media posts suggested the report published by the COVID-19 science advisory table had called for an end to masks and physical distancing at schools.

“Masking is important + effective,” Thampi posted in reply, noting wryly that she was impressed at how quickly the guidance on masks was “taken out of context and misinterpreted.”

The report said masks and physical distancing are among the temporary measures that should be employed at schools based on COVID-19 risk. When the risk is low they can be dropped.

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The report emphasized the importance of students returning to in-person classes and extracurricular activities.

School closures, disruptions and pandemic restrictions have hurt children physically, emotionally and developmentally, the report said.

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The report arrives as students and parents wait for the Ontario government to announce a school reopening plan.

The government has given school boards broad advice, but has not filled in the details.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce has said his goal is also to return students to in-person learning and extracurricular activities this fall.

Many questions remain about which pandemic restrictions in place will remain. Will the government maintain its direction that high school students attend only two classes at a time? Will there be masks and physical distancing? Will children be allowed to sing or play wind instruments? Play close contact sports?

The Opposition parties at Queen’s Park, education unions and some parents have been pressing for a plan and have lots of advice on what it should include.

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The NDP called Tuesday for an education campaign to get more youths over age 12 vaccinated;  ventilation upgrades at schools; 14 paid sick and family care days so parents can keep sick kids home from school; smaller classes; and more mental health staff.

Here are some of the key points from the COVID-19 science table report.

When should students shift to online learning at home?

Ontario has had the longest interruptions to in-person learning in Canada, the report notes.

It urged that “barring catastrophic circumstances, schools should remain open for in-person learning.”

The Ontario government has not provided a metric for what triggers school closures. However, students were shifted to online learning at home twice last year, and both times officials blamed rising rates of infection in the community.

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The report suggests using the rate of severe illness causing hospitalization and death as a key indicator of what pandemic measures are needed at schools.

By the time schools reopen it’s expected that most adults and kids over age 12 will be vaccinated.

“Immunization is the single most effective preventive intervention, and its widespread uptake will dramatically reduce infection rates even among unvaccinated children,” said the report.

Schools can consider relaxing temporary restrictions such as masking, distancing and cohorting “when high vaccination rates are achieved and severe disease requiring hospitalization rates are low and stable,” the report said.

It also recommended that permanent safety measures be adopted at schools, including screening to keep people with symptoms away from school, hand hygiene, cleaning, improved indoor air quality and easy access to COVID-19 testing.

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At a press conference Tuesday, Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Kieran Moore said he liked the “data driven” approach in the science report as well as the idea of taking into account regional differences.

At the same time, he suggested school reopening would be done cautiously in September to start so officials could monitor the situation.

When should kids wear masks at school?

The report said masks should not be required at school in regions that are at low risk of COVID-19.

Thampi clarified on social media that optional masking is “the looking-ahead scenario. Not the here-and-now scenario.”

“We recommend masking in elementary schools if there’s more circulating virus in the community. Older kids follow public health guidance for indoors.”

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The recommendation drew criticism from some, including University of Toronto epidemiologist David Fisman.

There is clear evidence on the benefit of masks in reducing COVID-19 risk, Fisman posted.

On Monday the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that all children over age two wear masks when they return to school, Fisman noted.

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What type of testing should children receive?

The report said non-invasive and accessible lab-based PCR testing is important. It recommended  methods like saliva or cheek- and-tip-of-nose swabs that are less uncomfortable than the deep-nasal swab, and measures such as take-home test kits, which are already in use in Ottawa and Toronto.

The report recommended against the routine use of universal rapid testing of asymptomatic students and staff, especially when the risk of COVID-19 is low to moderate.

“The use of asymptomatic screen testing as a temporary measure in the high COVID-19 risk scenario is an area that requires further study and should not be broadly implemented without further pilot data.”

jmiller@postmedia.com

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Media Beat: Aug. 03, 2021 | FYIMusicNews – FYI Music News

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Spectrum auction raises record $8.9B

Canada’s auction of 3500 MHz spectrum, which is key for next generation 5G networks, generated a record C$8.9 billion, with the country’s three dominant telecom companies accounting for more than 80% of the amount raised.

Out of 1,504 available licenses, 1,495 were awarded to 15 companies, including 757 licenses to small and regional providers, Innovation Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said in a statement on Thursday.

Preliminary results showed that BCE Inc spent C$2.1B, Rogers C$3.3B and Telus Corp C$1.9B. – David Ljunggren & Moira Warburton, Reuters

Michael Geist vs Steven Guilbeault, the latest round

Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault was recently asked about his plans to mandate licensing of links to news articles on social-media sites such as Facebook. While the policy is often referred to as a link tax, Mr. Guilbeault insisted that it was not a tax, stating “some people think every time the government acts, it’s a tax. What I’m working on has nothing to do with tax.” Instead of a government tax scheme, Mr. Guilbeault explained that he intends to have the Copyright Board of Canada set a fee for the links to articles, backed by government power to levy fines for non-payment.

Leaving aside the semantic debate over what constitutes a government tax, my Globe and Mail op-ed argues that the comments are notable because when it comes to addressing the concerns associated with the large technology companies, Canada should be working on taxation. Mr. Guilbeault has said his top legislative priority is to “get money from web giants,” yet rather than focusing on conventional tax policy, his preference is to entrench cross-subsidy programs that keep the money out of general tax revenues and instead allow for direct support to pet projects and favoured sectors.

Northern Canada may be a popular destination at the end of the world

Islands with low population density, particularly those with distinct seasonal changes, fared the best with New Zealand topping the list compiled by Global Sustainability Institute.

 Iceland, U.K., Australia (specifically Tasmania) and Ireland made up the rest of the shortlist where it would be best for society to restart after a collapse.

Northern Canada, while not on the shortlist, could act as a “lifeboat” in the event of societal collapse due to climate change and extreme temperatures, but survival would rely on maintaining agriculture and renewable energy sources to keep the population alive. – Brooke Taylor, CTV News

Cancel culture chic is worrisome to the majority of US electorate, study shows

Religion and politics are never polite subjects to discuss in mixed company. But imagine if what most people consider to be merely a social faux pas became the reason you were fired from your job, sued, or had all of your personal information spread publicly on the internet. Simply because someone at the table disagreed with whom you voted for.

For most of American history, this response would be unfathomable.

But it happens every day.

Journalists and editors get fired for printing differing opinions—even if they don’t agree with that opinion themselves. Small business owners get sued or fined for following their conscience. Workers get fired for social media posts from their youth. Not even Abraham Lincoln is safe when the mob is on a warpath.

The danger and destruction of cancel culture is far-reaching and, if we aren’t careful, it could become a defining characteristic of American culture for posterity.

It’s a popular issue with the talking heads on cable news, but the Center for Excellence in Polling wanted to see what a diverse population of the United States thought of “canceling” people for their beliefs.

The results paint a very different picture than the woke elites would have you believe.

Behind the Facebook-fueled rise of The Epoch Times

Started almost two decades ago with a stated mission to “provide information to Chinese communities to help immigrants assimilate into American society,” The Epoch Times now wields one of the biggest social media followings of any news outlet. – Brandy Zadrozny & Ben Collins, CNBC News

How to defend yourself against NSO spyware attacks

There may be no such thing as perfect security, as one classic adage in the field states, but that’s no excuse for passivity. Here, then, are practical steps you can take to reduce your “attack surface” and protect yourself against spyware like NSO’s. – The Intercept

CNN’s interview with Tom Walker (aka Jonathan Pie) takes an unexpected turn, 11/19

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Reese Witherspoon’s Media Company Hello Sunshine Reportedly Sells for $900 Million – Vanity Fair

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“This is a meaningful move in the world because it really means that women’s stories matter,” Witherspoon said of the sale to a media firm backed by private-equity group Blackstone Group Inc.

Reese Witherspoon’s five-year-old media company, Hello Sunshine, is expanding its reach. The starry entity, which was founded by Witherspoon in 2016, has been sold to a media firm backed by private-equity group Blackstone Group Inc, The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday. Hello Sunshine has reportedly been valued at $900 million, people familiar with the deal told WSJ.

The company, which has already spawned a film and TV production company, its own VOD network (complete with Witherspoon’s first-ever talk show, Shine on with Reese), and book club, centers on stories by and for women. Hello Sunshine has produced films such as Gone Girl and Wild and shows including HBO’s Big Little Lies, Apple’s The Morning Show, and Hulu’s Little Fires Everywhere. “I’m going to double down on that mission to hire more female creators from all walks of life and showcase their experiences,” Witherspoon said in a statement. “This is a meaningful move in the world because it really means that women’s stories matter.”

Reports began to circulate last month that Hello Sunshine was considering a sale and could receive a $1 billion valuation. The currently unnamed media partnership between Blackstone and Hello Sunshine will be headed by former Walt Disney Co. executives Kevin Mayer and Tom Staggs. Hello Sunshine is the first acquisition for the firm, which will retain Witherspoon and her company’s Chief Executive, Sarah Harden, as members of their board. Blackstone is reportedly shelling out more than $500 million in cash to purchase shares from Hello Sunshine’s investors.

The sale of Hello Sunshine to Blackstone is “part of a plan to build an independent entertainment company for Hollywood’s streaming era,” WSJ reports. It comes amidst a time when high-profile stars like Scarlett Johansson are bucking against the idea of their films debuting simultaneously on streaming and theatrically. Like projects of Hello Sunshine’s past, its upcoming slate includes adaptations of popular novels—the film Where The Crawdads Sing and Amazon series Daisy Jones and The Six.

More Great Stories From Vanity Fair

— Searching for the Truth About Anthony Bourdain and Asia Argento
— How Never Have I Ever Tore Up the “Immigrant Mom” Trope
— What Black Widow’s Final Minutes Mean for the MCU’s Future
— Can Hot People in Animal Masks Find True Love on Sexy Beasts?
— The Best Shows and Movies Coming to Netflix in August
— The Poignant Story Behind Anthony Bourdain’s Favorite Song
— How Brad and Angelina Inspired Loki’s Finale
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— From the Archive: Richard Gully, the Man Hollywood Trusted
— Sign up for the “HWD Daily” newsletter for must-read industry and awards coverage—plus a special weekly edition of Awards Insider.

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Senators Introduce Bill to Help Agencies Counter Deepfakes and Deceptive Media – Nextgov

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Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee leaders moved to form a new federal task force to explore setting standards and deploying technologies for determining facts about the origins of digital content.

That cadre—the National Deepfake and Digital Provenance Task Force—would draw insights from across the public, private and academic landscapes and operate within the Homeland Security Department, according to legislation introduced by ranking member  Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Chairman Gary Peters, D-Mich., on Thursday. 

It’s meant to help chart a path forward for how DHS and other feds can work to counter the online spread of maliciously-made synthetic media.

Former U.S. diplomat Mounir Ibrahim told Nextgov Monday that this marks Congress’ first piece of legislation to explicitly hone in on digital content provenance, or the verifiable chronology of the inception and history of images, videos, documents, recordings or other electronic media. After years serving as a foreign service officer for the State Department, he’s now vice president of strategic initiatives for Truepic, a technology company specializing in image authenticity. 

Ibrahim explained that while many people base personal, financial, political and other vital decisions on what they see and hear online, they’re also facing “an explosion in the proliferation of image deception, fraud and fabrication tools readily available on any smartphone or computer.” 

“The most advanced of these image deception techniques are known as deepfakes, or wholly fabricated synthetic videos, which are already very, very realistic—but are still improving at a rapid rate,” he said.

Such videos use emerging technologies to make people appear to do or say things that they didn’t in reality. Bad actors have weaponized standard image deception methods through cheapfakes, which can be manipulated with cheaper and more accessible software than machine learning, for a variety of illicit purposes. Experts, Ibrahim noted, are also seeing advanced image deception via the more sophisticated, AI-enabled deepfakes, like those “used in illegal non-consensual pornography, which is very damaging.” Such weaponization could also be tapped for illicit purposes across government, business and society. The FBI warned several months ago that the methods are “almost certain” for corporate espionage and business fraud. 

But to Ibrahim, “perhaps worse than the fraud itself is the second-order effect of the erosion of trust online”—a concept known as the liar’s dividend. The idea is that as cheapfakes and deepfakes proliferate, they’ll increasingly undermine the trust in anything humans encounter online, even if it is true. 

“One example of this is the few people who suggested the video of George Floyd’s murder was a deepfake. Though that was not widely accepted, that is a snapshot of how the liar’s dividend can be weaponized,” Ibrahim said. “In short, the erosion of trust will turn into the erosion of our shared sense of reality.”

To confront that threat, the lawmakers’ 14-page legislation outlines their proposals for the makeup and responsibilities of the fresh DHS task force. 

The strategic group would be co-chaired by DHS and Office of Science and Technology Policy officials and include 12 members equally representing the government, private and academic sectors. Each of those selected would have technical expertise in artificial intelligence, media manipulation, cryptography, digital forensics or other relevant fields. They would consult the Energy, Defense and State secretaries, National Institute of Standards and Technology and National Science Foundation directors, among other agency leaders, over the course of their work.

Broadly, the ultimate intent of the task force would be to map out a coordinated plan for investigating how a digital content provenance standard could assist with reducing the dissemination of deepfakes, help advance tools for content creators to authenticate their media and its origins, and improve how the public and private sectors relay trust and information about digital content sources to the public.

“This commonsense bipartisan bill will help strengthen our nation’s ability to combat malicious attempts to spread lies and further divide the American people,” Peters said.

Ibrahim pointed out that this legislation comes not only as image-based deception is advancing rapidly—but also builds on a notable recommendation from the National Security Commission on AI’s comprehensive review. Specifically, the group called for the making of a new task force to consider standards for using technology to certify content authenticity and provenance. The bill also emerges as the Coalition for Content Provenance and Authenticity is building an open standard for widespread adoption across the internet. Truepic, Intel, Adobe and others participate in the coalition.

“This is the most direct and informed legislation I have seen associated with digital content provenance,” Ibrahim said. “However, we have seen other nations move towards ensuring there is transparency and information on image fabrication available to content consumers.” 

Norway passed a law last month mandating social media influencers to disclose what alterations are made to digital content. The approach was also referenced in Australia’s mis- and disinformation code of practice. In the U.S., the legislation follows Portman’s Deepfake Report Act, which passed the Senate last year as a provision in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act.

“I would expect to see the approach [to provenance] begin to be understood and included in additional legislation in the US and abroad in the coming year or two,” Ibrahim said. 

Technology leaders from Truepic, Adobe, Microsoft, Arm and elsewhere expressed support for the senators’ proposal. The bill was referred to the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

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