Joyous resistance through costume and dance at Carnival

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Underneath the façade of the Caribbean carnival, historical, cultural and political undercurrents run deep. A parade participant performs during the Grand Parade at last year’s Toronto’s Carnival.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

Henry Navarro Delgado, Ryerson University

We partied morning to morning, and a joyous spirit permeated everything; speech, customs and appearances. The centrepiece of it all were wheeled fantasy islands (floats) inhabited by amazingly glamorous yet exquisitely vulgar costumed creatures played by Carnival masqueraders. The best part of the whole affair? People from the community created everything.

With Toronto’s famous Caribbean Carnival around the corner, these memories from my adolescence in the Caribbean return.

Acquaintances from my grandmother’s neighbourhood, La Risueña in the city of Santiago de Cuba, spent a whole year working on their carnival wares. They practised their moves in secret. Their goal was to outdo other townsfolk’s floats, costumes, music and choreography.

Growing up in Cuba, people of all ages and walks of life waited for summer’s arrival. Not because of the heat and humidity (we unanimously loathed that), but because of carnival season.

The carnival served as a collective social valve. This was a time of the year when all conventions and codes of behaviour were thrown out the window. A carefree and tolerant spirit reigned, albeit for a short window of time.

Carnival in Toronto is an opportunity to publically honour diverse ideals of beauty. Parade participants perform during last year’s Grand Parade.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

For Toronto’s heterogeneous population, the Caribbean Carnival is an opportunity to partake in a communal celebration of diversity and to publicly honour non-mainstream ideals of beauty.

Most people are familiar with how Caribbean-style carnivals look. They recall a sea of extravagantly costumed bodies swaying to the same beat. But there is something very special to the West Indies’ brand of bacchanal. Underneath the façade of the Caribbean carnival, historical, cultural and political undercurrents run deep.

Colonial authorities mocked

Caribbean carnivals share roots with European traditions, but African and Indigenous influences fundamentally shaped and flavoured their culture. That culture has marinated for more than 500 years in colonial syncretism — a fusion of cultures, symbols and religions. Since the majority of the Caribbean population was of African and Indigenous descent, the region’s carnivals evolved into celebrations of anything contrary to dominant European culture.

They started off as Christian religious processions and end-of-harvest festivities. Over time, the saintly and agrarian elements fell by the wayside.

Revellers decorate costumes with colours symbolizing African and Indigenous deities in Havana, Cuba in 2012.

In western Cuba, carnival metamorphosed from the “Dia de Reyes (Kings’ Days)” celebration. At this week-long event, societies of colour (called Cabildos) had their processions and paraded their kings and queens. In eastern Cuba, carnivals coincided with the end of the tobacco and sugar cane harvests.

At these celebrations, slaves and free people of colour wore hand-me-down or borrowed clothes from the masters. Others donned attire fashioned to look European. They mischievously decorated costumes with colours symbolizing African and Indigenous deities.

Deomonic characters made their way into the festivities. A reveller is seen here on J’ouvert Morning, the party before the carnival parade in Trinidad.
Eduardo Skinner, CC BY-NC



Revellers also adopted exaggerated affectations and customs from colonial society. Eventually, more and more openly Afro-Caribbean, Indigenous and syncretic symbols and conventions populated the carnivals. These included demonic characters, degrees of nudity and widespread adoption of percussion instruments.

Colonial powers may have introduced the carnival, but it morphed into public events where a mix of African and Indigenous cultures were celebrated. All was conducive to African and Indigenous-influenced forms of collective dancing and the mockery of colonial authorities.

Celebration and transgression

Even in their original incarnations as religious and agrarian celebrations, the Caribbean’s carnivals were a community affair. Representatives of the different strata of society coordinated the festivities. It was only natural that a competitive spirit promptly developed.

Carnival is a community-building activity. A carnival parade in Old Havana, Cuba.
Alan Kotok

Battling among classes and neighbourhoods isn’t just part of the Caribbean carnival. Competition is central to Caribbean carnival’s traditions. This is visible in the rivalry among Brazil’s Samba Schools and the distinction between the upper class “Pretty Mass” and traditional festivities such as “J’Ouvert” in Trinidad’s carnival.

Spending summers with Afro-Cuban relatives in Santiago de Cuba, I witnessed friends and family preparing for carnival. While female participants worked hard for a top spot in the floats, males wanted to be caperos (cape bearers). Capes are flag-like, embellished with symbols and the colours of the neighbourhood.

Utmost secrecy is important when preparing for carnival. Carnival of Santiago de Cuba.
Christian Pirkl, CC BY-NC-SA

Later, at the Universidad de las Artes (then the Superior Institute of Arts) in Havana where I went to school, two of my classmates belonged to opposing carnival troupes. Hailing from Remedios, a town in central Cuba, they collaborated in school projects and art exhibits, but never discussed their neighbourhoods’ plans for Las Parrandas de Remedios. Utmost secrecy surrounded their carnival teams.

Carnival in the Caribbean is raw community at its best. Racial and class distinctions are erased; individuals toil, create and sweat side-by-side — unless they belong to competing carnival troupes. This is a sanctioned space for celebration and transgression.

A video capture of carnival in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

Bodies of disruption

At carnival anywhere in the Caribbean, part of the focus is on the human body. Carnival bodies come in many shapes, sizes, complexions, genders and states of dress. This makes carnival into a primarily embodied experience.

The body was the only agency left to African, Indigenous and people of colour in a colonized context. Bodies are also central to artistic expressions in African and Indigenous cultures where fine arts, dress and performance are on equal levels.

The body in motion is the ultimate form of social, aesthetic and spiritual expression. Such centrality of the body was fostered by colonization and the plantation model of production. Embodied cultural expressions then found their perfect outlet in the carnival.

The carnival body is a collective expression. A reveller on J’ouvert Morning in Trinidad.
Eduardo Skinner, CC BY-NC

During carnival, people of colour have a spatial-temporal opportunity within colonial society to publicly inhabit their cultural bodies. Tangentially or directly, the carnival body — adorned with colourful costumes, headdresses, feathers, body paint and different states of nudity — is a reflection of the cultural subconscious of people of colour in the Caribbean.

Carnival costumes contrast Judeo-Christian and European norms, ideals of beauty and modesty and instead celebrate African and Indigenous cultures.

Caribbean carnival’s style of dress became full-frontal outrageous during the 1970s when body-centric approaches reached an all-time high. Multiculturalism and global Afro-centric tendencies greatly shaped the carnival dress during this decade.

The cultural significance of carnival bodies has far-reaching implications well beyond the visual immediacy of the celebrations. As collective entities, carnival bodies constitute political commentary. A parade of decorated bodies performing in unison has a real persuasive power.

Carnival politics

With slavery finally abolished in the late 19th century, carnival’s space for cultural expression and disruption widened. By the 1920s, Caribbean carnivals also became an instrument for social and political campaigning. Under the guise of mindless revelry, coded political messages were disseminated as songs and slogans.

A 1925 photo of Sexteto Habanero in Havana, Cuba.

Caribbean carnivals continue to serve as megaphones for political and social platforms. An extreme case was Fidel Castro, who used the carnival to attack a Cuban army garrison in 1953. Although unsuccessful, the attempt sparked the Cuban revolution.

Currently, carnivals in Brazil serve as platforms for political debates, including the fate of Indigenous populations. Meanwhile, controversies around carnival funding have exposed racial, social and economic divisions in the Bahamas and Jamaica.

The Toronto Carnival nexus

At Toronto’s Carnival, we can see some of this rich social, political and cultural past. Costumed performers and revellers represent a continuum of Caribbean traditions that originated during colonial times. Yet, Toronto’s Carnival projects them towards the future.

Amalgamating Pan-Caribbean traditions in a cosmopolitan metropolis, Carnival is a public cultural space for Toronto’s racialized residents. There, participation and creation continues to function as community building.

Santiago’s Carnival allowed my teenage self to tune into my Afro-Caribbean heritage. Toronto’s Carnival legitimizes the city’s embrace of its own mix of cultural identities.

Henry Navarro Delgado, Assistant Professor of Fashion, Ryerson University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The math behind Trump’s tweets

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President Donald Trump delivers a lot of information through Twitter. Here he speaks in the Oval Office of the White House, March 2018.
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Anthony Bonato, Ryerson University and Lyndsay Roach, Ryerson University

United States President Donald Trump has a preoccupation with Twitter. Since his account @realDonaldTrump became active in March 2009, it has amassed 53.2 million followers, making it the 18th most popular account on the social media site.

While Trump has tweeted more than 38,000 times, his tweets during and after the 2016 presidential election made his Twitter account a lightning rod for the media and the public. Major news outlets like CNN, CBC, and BBC routinely embed tweets from @realDonaldTrump in their online stories. The Daily Show even turned Trump’s tweets into a mock presidential museum.

In a controversial and unparalleled fashion, Trump uses Twitter as a vehicle for his political announcements. On high-impact issues such as the U.S. travel ban, transgender military recruits and immigration, to name a few, Trump used Twitter to communicate policy decisions.

Alec Baldwin on ‘Saturday Night Live’ in a 2016 sketch on how Trump, then the president-elect, couldn’t stop tweeting.

Given the volume of Trump’s tweets and their potential political relevance, we thought it would be revealing and novel to use mathematical methods to analyze the web of interactions formed by his most frequently used keywords.

Network analysis

One of our primary goals was to uncover communities, which represent groupings of thematically related keywords. We formed co-occurrence networks based on Trump’s tweets, where nodes are keywords, and form links between two keywords if they appear in the same tweet. For example, if the keywords “bad” and “media” appear in the same tweet, they receive a link.

Using an online archive of the president’s tweets on GitHub, we extracted the top 100 keywords from Trump’s Twitter account from each of the last four years. We removed retweets and common words like “it” and “the.”

Some nodes were combined if the keyword was made up of two words; for example, “white” and “house” became “white house;” others such as “e-mail” and “e-mails” were kept separate because Trump used them in different contexts. Labels containing more than one word without spaces are hashtags that frequently appear in the tweets.

We visualized networks of keywords in @realDonaldTrump using the open source software Gephi with the ForceAtlas2 layout algorithm. Communities are groups of nodes that are more likely linked to each other than to other nodes in the network. Gephi uses the Louvain method on network modularity to identify communities, where modularity measures the strength of the division into communities. The Louvain method is an algorithm that optimizes the modularity of a network, so the higher the modularity, the better the division into communities.

The communities were uncovered as a byproduct of the overall network structure, and not by any manual manipulation on our parts. The Gephi software randomly assigned colours to each community: keywords with the same colour are thematically related.


The following network visualizations represent keywords from Trump’s Twitter account taken in 2015 and 2016, leading up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Links and nodes were resized based on their relative frequency.

The keyword network from Trump’s 2015 tweets.

In the 2015 network, the two nodes with the most links are “trump” and “realdonaldtrump,” which both appear in the purple community. The likely reason why Trump’s name came up so often as a keyword in 2015 was that he was campaigning for the Republican primary, and his tweets often included compliments made about or by him.

The purple community containing “cruz,” “rubio,” and “carson,” and the green community containing “kasich” and “bush” correspond to his Republican primary opponents.

In the 2016 network, the communities reflect his race against the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. The purple community appears to focus on Clinton and the Democratic Party, containing “crooked,” “fbi,” “emails,” and his hashtag “draintheswamp.”

The keyword network from Trump’s 2016 tweets.

In the orange community, there are keywords “rally,” “new hampshire” and “michigan,” along with his hashtag “makeamericagreatagain.” In the blue community, we observe the swing states “ohio” and “florida,” and his shortened hashtag “maga” that stands for “Make America Great Again.”

Next we looked at the 2017 and 2018 networks which correspond to the first and second years of Trump’s presidency.

In the 2017 network, the blue community corresponds to Trump’s dislike of the media, and it contains “fake,” “news,” “cnn,” “bad” and “media.” The orange community contains “hillary clinton,” “fbi” and “crooked.”

The keyword network from Trump’s 2017 tweets.

The green community corresponds to domestic policy issues such as “healthcare,” “economy,” “jobs,” “tax,” “reform,” and “cut,” while the purple community has a cluster related to foreign policy issues such as “security,” “china,” and “north korea.”

The keyword network from Trump’s 2018 tweets.

In the 2018 network, communities emerged related to trade (in orange) and borders and immigration (in purple). Trump’s focus on the media and Clinton continues unabated and moves into the blue community. He frequently tweeted about “tax,” “cuts,” and “jobs” in the green community.

Five communities revealed

While’s Trump’s words spoken in the traditional media may at times appear unpredictable, our analysis suggests a long-term trend with his tweets.

Considering that Trump tweets on average ten times a day and on a range of issues, it is remarkable that in each of the four years, his Twitter networks consistently split up into precisely five communities. In other words, by accident or design, his tweets tend to focus on five broad topics each year since 2015. Some of the issues morph over time, and this is evident from before and after his presidency.

The content in the communities sometimes beg further questions. For example, in the 2018 network, the green community contains the keywords “russia,” “comey,” and “collusion.” These refer to the ongoing Russia investigation. The green community, however, also includes “crooked” and “hillary,” and we leave it to pundits to explain how all these keywords are related.

Our take is that by repeating keywords together, his sizable Twitter audience will view them as more likely linked in real life.

Trump is unlikely to stop or even reduce his tweeting anytime soon. Twitter represents a vital aspect of Trump’s media engagement.

Our analysis used network science to map out Trump’s keywords on Twitter and their interactions over the timescale of years. From this approach, we obtain a historical view of the topics that matter to him. A potential future research plan would be to map Trump’s Twitter networks over shorter time periods such as months, weeks or even days.

Every politician and public figure on Twitter have associated with them an evolving web of keywords. These networks are not always evident in our break-neck 24-hour news cycle, and our approach holds the potential to make these hidden networks more visible. We need only to look to network science to uncover them.

Anthony Bonato, Professor of Mathematics, Ryerson University and Lyndsay Roach, Masters Student in Applied Mathematics, Ryerson University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why e-sports should not be in the Olympics

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Jong Seok Kim, a player for the London Spitfires team in the Overwatch League, which gets primetime coverage on ESPN. Will e-sports soon be part of the Olympics?
Robert Paul/Blizzard Entertainment

Nicole W. Forrester, Ryerson University

The International Olympic Committee and the Global Association of International Sports Federations recently hosted an e-sports forum to explore shared similarities, possible partnership and the looming question of whether video gaming could be recognized as an Olympic event.

Ever since the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris first expressed interest of possibly adding electronic sports to the Olympic Games program, we’ve seen a growing interest by the IOC in e-sports — traditionally defined as any “organized video game competitions.

Recognizing the growing interest in e-sports, the organizing committee of the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris said: “The youth are interested, let’s meet them.”

As an Olympian and former world class high jumper, I struggle with the notion of e-sports becoming an Olympic sport. I am not alone. Conversations I’ve had with other Olympians reveal concerns about comparing the physical skill and demands of traditional athletic competition with e-sports.

Given the IOC’s advocacy role for physical activity, e-sports seems to be a conflict with its push for an active society.

In an interview with Inside the Games, Sarah Walker, an IOC Athletes’ Commission member and three-time world champion in BMX, explained her opposition.

“If I want to practise any Olympic discipline, if I wanted to try one of them, I actually have to go out and do it. I have to be active. Where gaming is right now, if I was inspired to be a gamer, my first step is to go home and sit on the couch.”

Most Olympians recognize that those who participate in e-sports spend a great deal of time training — even working with nutritionists and sport psychologists to improve their prowess. But is that is that enough to join the Olympic Games family?

Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, attends an e-sport forum held at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland in July 2018.
Greg Martin/International Olympic Committee

$1 billion market

Given the growth in popularity, it’s understandable why the IOC would want to partner with e-sports. The IOC generates more than 90 per cent of its revenue from broadcast and sponsorship. Partnering with e-sports, where revenue is generated mostly through sponsorship but where more money is coming from broadcasting, could be complementary and attractive.

The marketing firm Newzoo estimated last year that with brand investment growing by 48 per cent, the global e-sports economy will reach almost $1 billion in 2018.

Read more:
Video gamers may soon be paid more than top pro athletes

ESPN provides in-depth analysis and coverage with a digital vertical platform on e-sports and the network recently announced an exclusive multi-year agreement with Blizzard Entertainment for live television coverage of the professional e-sport Overwatch League, with the finals airing in prime time.

Is e-sport a sport?

Still, the question remains, is e-sports — “organized video game competitions” — actually a sport?

To answer this question, perhaps we need to revisit the academic definition of sport. While differences may exist in their granular descriptions of sport, researchers appear to converge on three central attributes: The sport involves a physical component, it is competitive, and it is institutionalized, meaning a governing body establishes the rules of performance.

While e-sports can be argued to be competitive and institutionalized, the first criteria of physicality is where it falls short.

Some have argued the fine motor movements that are required with the hand-held controller by e-sport players fulfils this criterion. However, the same could be said about various table top games.

A 2016 study in Quest, the journal of the National Association for Kinesiology in Higher Education, used the block-building game Jenga to illustrate this point. Jenga requires precision and dexterity as each player must to remove one block from the bottom and delicately place the block on top without disturbing the structure. There is even a Jenga World Championship. Perhaps then Jenga should also be considered an Olympic sport.

Since the modern Olympics were first held in 1896, the number of participating sports has grown over the years. The first Games had just nine sports — athletics (track and field), cycling, fencing, gymnastics, shooting, swimming, tennis, weightlifting and wrestling. At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, a total of 28 sports were contested. Five more will be added for 2020 Games in Tokyo Games.

Participants at the e-sports forum held at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Christophe Moratal/International Olympic Committee

The first step for a sport to be included in the Olympic Games program requires being recognized by the IOC. In this process, the sport must have overarching international federation (IF) that will govern the sport — enforcing the rules and regulations of the Olympic Movement, which includes drug testing. (It is also possible for a sport to be recognized as an Olympic sport and never participate in the Games, as is the case for chess, bowling and powerboating.)

Once recognized, the sport’s IF can apply for admittance into the Olympic program as a sport, a discipline or an event. For example, the women’s steeplechase was added to the 2008 Olympic Games as an event within the sport of athletics.

More sports added

An Organising Committee of an Olympic Games (OCOG) can also propose the inclusion of an event. Most recently, the IOC allowed the addition of karate, surfing, sports climbing and baseball/softball to the Olympic program in Tokyo 2020.

Paris 2024 had indicated an interest in including e-sports on its program, but the IOC has said it won’t be eligible by the time the schedule is set in 2020. Still, IOC President Thomas Bach said at the recent e-sports forum that the meeting was a “first step of a long journey” to what could lead to Olympic recognition.

Read more:
How sports get chosen for the Olympics

A male-dominated activity

Central to the Olympic Movement and nestled within the criteria of accepting a new sport is gender equality. Interestingly, this has been an area in which e-sports has been heavily criticized.

A study that reviewed gender and gaming determined that even though there are approximately equal numbers of males and females who play video games, most professional gamers are male. Moreover, female players who achieve some level of success are marginalized. Researchers concluded the “video game culture is actively hostile towards women in the private as well as the professional spheres.”

Thirteen minutes of sexual harassment on Cross Assault in e-sports for Miranda Pakozdi.

Within the gaming community, it is not a surprise for female players to be harassed.

One notable case involved Miranda Pakozdi, who was sexually harassed for 13 minutes on the live internet program “Cross Assault.” The portrayal of females in e-sports should also concern the IOC. Women are usually depicted as highly sexually and as victims instead of heroines.

Many Olympians, including me, feel it’s inevitable that e-sports will one day join the Olympic family. Still, one can only wonder if Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern Games, would question whether the values of the Olympic Movement are being compromised for the financial enticements that e-sports promise.

Nicole W. Forrester, Assistant Professor, School of Media, Ryerson University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Big Brother facial recognition needs ethical regulations

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Will facial recognition software make the world a safer place, as tech firms are claiming, or will it make the marginalized more vulnerable and monitored?
William Michael Carter, Ryerson University


My mother always said I had a face for radio. Thank God, as radio may be the last place in this technology-enhanced world where your face won’t determine your social status or potential to commit a crime.

RealNetworks, the global leader of a technology that enables the seamless digital delivery of audio and video files across the internet, has just released its latest computer vision: A machine learning software package. The hope is that this new software will detect, and potentially predict, suspicious behaviour through facial recognition.

Called SAFR (Secure, Accurate Facial Recognition), the toolset has been marketed as a cost-effective way to smoothly blend into existing CCTV video monitoring systems. It will be able to “detect and match millions of faces in real time,” specifically within school environments.

Ostensibly, RealNetworks sees its technology as something that can make the world safer. The catchy branding, however, masks the real ethical issues surrounding the deployment of facial detection systems. Some of those issues include questions about the inherent biases embedded within the code and, ultimately, how that captured data is used.

The Chinese model

Big Brother is watching. No other country in the world has more video surveillance than China. With 170 million CCTV cameras and some 400 million new ones being installed, it is a country that has adopted and deployed facial recognition in an Orwellian fashion.

In the near future, its citizens, and those of us who travel there, will be exposed to a vast and integrated network of facial recognition systems monitoring everything from the use of public transportation, to speeding to how much toilet paper one uses in the public toilet.

In this photo from March 2017, visitors to the toilet at the Temple of Heaven park try out a facial recognition toilet paper dispenser in Beijing, China. At the 600-year-old Temple of Heaven, administrators recognized the need to stock the public bathrooms with toilet paper, a requirement for obtaining a top rating from the National Tourism Authority. But they needed a means of preventing patrons from stripping them bare for personal use – hence the introduction of new technology that dispenses just one 60-centimeter (2-foot) section of paper every nine minutes following a face scan.
(AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

The most disturbing element so far is the recent introduction of facial recognition to monitor school children’s behaviour within Chinese public schools.

As part of China’s full integration of their equally Orwellian social credit system — an incentive program that rewards each citizen’s commitment to the state’s dictated morals — this fully integrated digital system will automatically identify a person. It can then determine one’s ability to progress in society — and by extension that person’s immediate family’s economic and social status — by monitoring the state’s non-sanctioned behaviour.

In essence, facial recognition is making it impossible for those exposed to have the luxury of having a bad day.

Facial recognition systems now being deployed within Chinese schools are monitoring everything from classroom attendance to whether a child is daydreaming or paying attention. It is a full-on monitoring system that determines, to a large extent, a child’s future without considering that some qualities, such as abstract thought, can’t be easily detected or at best, looked upon favourably, with facial recognition.

It also raises some very uncomfortable notions of ethics or the lack thereof, especially towards more vulnerable members of society.

Need for public regulation

RealNetworks launch of SAFR comes hot on the heels of Microsoft president Brad Smith’s impassioned manifesto on the need for public regulation and corporate responsibility in the development and deployment of facial recognition technology.

Smith rightly pointed out that facial recognition tools are still somewhat skewed and have “greater error rates for women and people of colour.” This problem is twofold, with an acknowledgement that the people who code may unconsciously embed cultural biases.

Read more:
What if MIT’s Norman and Amazon’s Alexa hooked up?

The data sets currently available may lack the objective robustness required to ensure that people’s faces aren’t being misidentified, or even worse, predetermined through encoded bias as is now beginning to happen in the Chinese school system.

In an effort to address this and myriad other related issues, Microsoft established an AI and Ethics in Engineering and Research (AETHER) Committee. This committee is also set up to help them comply with the European Union’s newly enforced General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and its eventual future adoption, in some form, in North America.

Smith’s ardent appeal rightly queries the current and future intended use and deployment of facial recognition systems, yet fails to address how Microsoft or, by extension, other AI technology leaders, can eliminate biases within their base code or data sets from the onset.

Minority report

The features of our face are hardly more than gestures which force of habit has made permanent. — Marcel Proust, 1919

Like many technologies, Pandora has already left the box. If you own a smart phone and use the internet, you have already opted out of any basic notions of personal anonymity within Western society.

With GDPR now fully engaged in Europe, visiting a website now requires you to “opt in” to the possibility that that website might be collecting personal data. Facial recognition systems have no means of following GDPR rules, so as such, we as society are automatically “opted-in” and thus completely at the mercy of how our faces are being recorded, processed and stored by governmental, corporate or even privately deployed CCTV systems.

A computer with an automatic facial recognition system shows Thomas de Maiziere, the former German minister of interior, center right, as he visited the Suedkreuz train station in Berlin, Friday, Dec. 15, 2017. At the train station, German authorities test automatic facial recognition technologies.
(AP Photo/Markus Schreiberl)

Facial recognition trials held in England by the London Metropolitan Police have consistently yielded a 98 per cent failure rate. Similarly, in South West Wales, tests have done only slightly better with less than 10 per cent success.

Conversely, University of California, Berkeley, scientists have concluded that substantive facial variation is an evolutionary trait unique to humans. So where is the disconnect?

If as Marcel Proust has suggested, our lives and thus our personalities are uniquely identifiable by our faces, why can’t facial recognition systems not easily return positive results?

The answer goes back to how computer programming is written and the data sets used by that code to return a positive match. Inevitably, code is written to support an idealized notion of facial type.

As such, outlying variations like naturally occurring facial deformities or facial features affected by physical or mental trauma represent only a small fraction of the infinite possible facial variations in the world. The data sets assume we are homogeneous doppelgängers of each other, without addressing the micro-variations of peoples faces.

If that’s the case, we are all subject to the possibility that our faces as interpreted by the ever-increasing deployment of immature facial recognition systems will betray the reality of who we are.

William Michael Carter, Assistant Professor, Creative Industries, Ryerson University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How to use anger as a defence against ageism

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The author, Joe Recupero, as he competed in the Tough Mudder race in 2014. Alison Webb, Author provided 

Joe Recupero, Ryerson University

We have been taught from the time we are children that outbursts of anger are unproductive and socially unacceptable. But if channelled properly, there is an upside to anger — and is most often evident in sport.

The field of play is where healthy aggression and combat has always been an acceptable outlet. We compete as athletes, weekend warriors and casual recreational players at sport and events like Tough Mudder to fulfil needs, to seek out camaraderie, attain a sense of team and community, to test our bodies and our limits and to blow off steam from our everyday lives and workplaces.

Tough Mudder is an extreme endurance event which comprises a 10- to 12-mile obstacle course run and is an example of this connection between sports, masculinity and modern capitalism.

When competing in any athletic or recreational sport there is a battle of wills and bodies to achieve success and be the ultimate warrior. We learn this from an early age in the schoolyard, playgrounds and fields of play and we then take this into adulthood and our careers.

It teaches us how to relish our victories, but also how to bounce back from setbacks and disappointments, which we can also translate into our professions, ambitions and corporate boardrooms.

I have worked in sport media and production for nearly 30 years. For many years I worked at CBC TV Network Sports as a producer and had the privilege of working on 13 Olympic Games, many other multi-day sporting events and World Cups and championships in almost every sport.

During the last 10 years, I have taught sports journalism and production, and I’m the Program Director of Sport Media in the RTA School of Media at Ryerson University. My creative and research interests focus around resiliency and diversity in sport and media.

I have often used sport as a source of resiliency when going through anything traumatic in my own life. Running marathons helped me cope with the stresses and anxieties of school, work and even the early deaths of my parents. Sport and endurance races also have a subliminal effect of outrunning old age, illness and death. If you can only keep active and regularly exercise and keep running then the bad stuff can’t find you.

A few years ago, when I joined the half century club by turning 50, I was in a career transition. After one job interview, someone told me I was “not the right fit.” I interpreted this as a subliminal form of ageism because on paper I fit all the criteria. This created a low-grade depression. I did what I had done many times before — I dug in deep and channelled my anger into pursuing an athletic challenge.

Ageism and sport

A recent article and study in Zoomer magazine looks at the toxic effects of ageism in the workplace and society and addresses how not only is it bad for the health for those over 50, but also for the younger millennial set who face a disconnect about getting older.

Enter a friend who was in rehab for a knee injury with the suggestion that I join him and three of his buddies for a Tough Mudder event. It was only three months away and the biggest question was would I be ready in time?

The author, Joe Recupero, second from right, with his Tough Mudder team. Alison Webb, Author provided 

The last couple years had put me in a fitness deficit and I was definitely not in shape to do a half marathon (which had become more my speed in the last decade), let alone a Tough Mudder, which I knew very little about. I did a bit of homework and found obstacles with fear-inducing names like “Ring of Fire,” “Electric Shock Therapy” and “Arctic Enema.”

What I neglected to pay attention to was how much upper body strength training was advised. I have always been more concerned with cardio workouts — running, playing sports and biking. But the Tough Mudder is non-stop monkey bars and jungle gyms for miles. I now have huge respect for all those people who paid attention to strength training and its benefits especially for those of us later in life.

Sport as resiliency

Come race day, we found ourselves in a sea of millennials, many sporting the different coloured Tough Mudder headbands that indicated how many you had previously completed — the badge of honour. I knew the goal was to walk out at the end of the day with one of those headbands.

We were clearly the oldest team competing, but did not let that sap our energy and enthusiasm. In fact, we let that fuel us. We knew we were old enough to be parents of most participants, but as we went through each obstacle and “earned our way in” we would catch the looks of surprised staff and teams who must have thought we somehow ended up on course by mistake.

But with age sometimes comes some wisdom. Through some climbing and water obstacles we were also able to point out smarter, faster ways of working. A couple of our teammates were the first to easily mount “Everest” — a half pipe snowboarding obstacle which required you to run up the curved wall, grab the top and throw yourself over and straddle. They were able to grab onto and help over many younger competitors that struggled getting over the lip of the half pipe.

Yes, we were all older and our bodies definitely not as lean, muscular or imposing, but we were there slogging through Tough Mudder just like the rest of them.

In a sporting arena where ageism can be so prevalent, the mere sight of older folks is a bit disconcerting to some. Sport can be a tremendous source of support and resiliency and somehow becomes the great equalizer out on the playing field. It can also challenge stereotypes and dismantle a lot of myths around ageing.

Crawling through one of the last and most challenging obstacles, “Mud Mile,” was definitely the moment I thought “what am I doing here?” But we persevered and finished the course.

Getting through Tough Mudder turned out to be one of the proudest physical achievements in my life. At the end of the day, as we tried to shower off the never-ending mud in the huge communal outdoor showering area, I let the water wash over me and I felt euphoric.

Is 50 the half way point, mid-life? This is what I have heard from many of my friends as they attempt to make me feel better about getting older. Previously, I would disagree: “How many 100-year-olds do you know?”

The ConversationAfter conquering Tough Mudder I plan to be one of those 100 centenarian still fighting the good fight and not giving in to ageism.

Joe Recupero, Progam Director – Sport Media / RTA School of Media / Assistant Professor, Ryerson University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

What businesses can learn from teamwork at the World Cup

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Mario Mandzukic celebrates during Croatia’s victory over England in the World Cup semifinal. Croatia’s emphasis of team over individual goals was crucial to its success.
(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Nicole W. Forrester, Ryerson University

Sport and business often seem to share common ground when it comes to performance. It’s not uncommon for businesses to use sports metaphors such as “down for the count,” “the ball’s in their court,” or “full court press.” As an Olympian, I’m often invited to speak at corporate events to inspire employees on setting goals or resiliency.

But only recently has there been a burgeoning body of researchers in the field of sport psychology and organizational psychology exploring the parallels between sports and businesses.

One study compared and contrasted the perceived factors of organizational success from the viewpoints of leaders in the fields of sport and business. The results revealed sport and business leaders identified more similar factors (e.g., leadership, communication and team cohesion) than differences.

Many parallels exist between sports and business when it comes to success. The recent FIFA World Cup provides a unique opportunity to examine some of these parallels and provide lessons for both business and sport.

Few would have predicted France versus Croatia in the final match. If you glanced at the FIFA world rankings a week before the first match, you may have anticipated the 2018 World Cup champion to be Germany or Brazil, respectively ranked first and second.

It would have also been easy to assume the two teams with the greatest players in the game — Argentina with Lionel Messi and Portugal with Cristiano Ronaldo — might also be contenders for the title.

However, true to the nature of sport, this year’s World Cup delivered unpredictable results.

The Team, The Team, The Team

“No man is more important than The Team. No coach is more important than The Team. The Team, The Team, The Team, and if we think that way, all of us, everything that you do, you take into consideration what effect does it have on my Team?”
Bo Schembechler, former University of Michigan football coach

One of the most powerful lessons from the 2018 World Cup is the positive relationship team cohesion had with performance.

More than 40 years ago, Canadian sports psychologist Albert Carron wrote that team cohesion is “a dynamic process which is reflected in the tendency for a group to stick together and remain united in the pursuit of its goals and objectives.” It still holds true today.

The Canadian women’s hockey team that won gold at the 2014 Olympics. Successful Olympic teams have cited unity and trust as key components of a winning effort.
(AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

There’s evidence that better team cohesion results in better performance, and better performance results in better team cohesion.

Studies on Olympians in team sports have identified team unity and trust among the most important factors for success, while teams that failed to achieve their expected results attributed it to planning and team cohesion problems.

Read more:
How Olympians train their brains to become mentally tough

Belgium surprised many World Cup fans by making it to the semifinals and eventually winning the third-place match. Team manager Roberto Martinez attributed Belgium’s success to “the notion of being a team. Individual skills and talent are important, but in these tournaments, it’s absolutely necessary to play as a team.”

Shared goals

Integral to team cohesion is a shared goal among all group members.

While each team consists of individuals with different roles and interests, their individual goals must support the team goal and not supersede it. Teams will struggle when an individual within the team places their needs above the rest.

Recognizing the importance of the team’s needs, Croatia’s coach, Zlatko Dalic, made a difficult decision when he sent striker Nikola Kalinic home after their opening game in the World Cup. Kalinic had refused to go on the field in the 85th minute of the game, saying he had back pain. However, it’s believed he may have been demonstrating his displeasure for being benched in the game.

Croatia head coach Zlatko Dalic watching his players warming up before the World Cup final against France.
(AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis) 

Acknowledging some problems in the camp, Dalic refused to elaborate or discuss Kalinic, simply stating “…since I need my players fit and ready to play, I have made this decision.

In this example, the coach took action to preserve the team chemistry and commitment to their shared goal by removing a player who appeared to place his own wants ahead of the team. Croatia was an example of a team in which the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.

When team members understand their role as it relates to the team goal, it can assist with buy-in and commitment. In business, it has been found to be associated with greater job satisfaction.

The importance of resiliency

Researchers have established resiliency to be a characteristic demonstrated by successful athletes and teams. A British study in 2015 of a rugby union World Cup-winning team found team resilience to be supported by five main psychosocial processes: Transformational leadership, shared team leadership, team learning, social identity and positive emotions.

This was also a theme cited by soccer analysts in the 2018 World Cup — most notably when Belgium overcame a 2-0 deficit to defeat Japan in the quarter-final match. Belgium scored three goals in the final 30 minutes. Such a comeback means the players stayed focused and avoided getting down on themselves. Additionally, controlling one’s composure and providing positive feedback to teammates can further bolster the teams’ collective confidence.

The ConversationAnchored in their pursuit of excellence, it is easy to see the link between sport and business. Understanding your role on a team, aligning behind a common objective and putting team goals ahead of individual needs are strategies that work on the field of play — in the boardroom.

Nicole W. Forrester, Assistant Professor, School of Media, Ryerson University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The future of local news is one bound with our own

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The future of local news is sobering but not without some measure of hope. By illuminating both the values and challenges besetting local journalism, we can reimagine a new day for local news. (Shutterstock)

Jaigris Hodson, Royal Roads University and Asmaa Malik, Ryerson University

In 2016, the world witnessed a dramatic political shift as Brexit in the United Kingdom, followed by the election of President Donald Trump in the United States, revealed fissures in the modern democratic process.

The emergence of social and digital media as a way to produce, consume and share news was a significant contributing factor to both these events.

Platforms like Google, Facebook and Twitter have helped facilitate the spread of “fake news,” which may have unduly influenced the democratic process.

These global events serve as a case study, or perhaps even a warning, about the central role a healthy news ecosystem plays in a functioning democracy. The state of news is under pressure from multiple forces that include digital disruption, the decline of advertising dollars, increased media concentration and an increasingly fragmented audience.

Nowhere are these pressures more keenly felt than in local and community news.

Read more:
When a squirrel dies: The rapid decline of local news

Research into local news shows that it plays a vital role in the health of communities and in a healthy public sphere, especially when it comes to charitable giving, increased turnout in local elections, sharing community stories to enhance social cohesion and strengthening local civic culture.

Despite its benefits to communities, however, the availability of local news is inconsistent, if not scarce, across North America.

In the U.S., for example, lower-income communities tend to have less access to local news than their higher-income counterparts. Similarly, in Canada, research has shown that news about key election races is available unevenly across the country.

Civic reporting doesn’t go viral

Social networks like Facebook and Twitter are often seen as effective ways to gather and distribute news as well as to reach new audiences. While social media technology can help shed light on some of the pressing issues of local news, and can also provide low-cost, high-impact ways for local news outlets to share information, it may be unwise to put too much faith in them.

In fact, research shows that only certain types of information spread online. Civic reporting, like coverage of town council meetings or budget briefings, are often drowned out by global and national headlines, as well as emotionally-charged and celebrity-driven news. While these preferences reflect previous analog habits to some extent, audiences’ increasing reliance on algorithms and recommendations has led to a deluge of such content, effectively drowning out the weaker signals from local news.

So, we ask, what is the way forward?

We put together a multi-media publication on local news to explore the changing role of local news in our current media environment and beyond.

Bringing together work from a variety of journalism scholars and practitioners at universities in Canada and beyond, we learned that the future of local news can be understood first by looking at the value of local news, then by considering the challenges facing local news today, then finally in understanding the role of technology in the current and future state of local news.

Local news values

The tremendous value of local news can be seen in work by Ryerson University journalism professor Joyce Smith. Looking at the ties between local news and charitable giving, Smith’s work shows how local news can build community cohesion through the act of community giving.

Similarly, work by journalism instructors Tyler Nagel from SAIT Polytechnic Institute and Alycia Mutual from the University of Northern British Columbia about the coverage of the first cruise ship to go through the Northwest Passage demonstrates the role of local news via a case study in northern Canada. Their research showed that Northern communities are lacking local and public media sources and often rely on southern media to cover stories in their communities.

In this August 2016 photo, a man stands on the shore of the Bering Sea to watch the luxury cruise ship Crystal Serenity anchored just outside Nome, Alaska.
(AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

Finally, Carrie Buchanan’s work out of John Carroll University shows that independent, non-profit publications tend to publish the largest number of locally relevant stories in their communities, underscoring the need for alternate non-commercial funding models for local journalism.

Local news challenges

Despite its value, local news faces some tremendous challenges. For example, investigating the changing and complex nature of the local news audience, Lenka Waschková Císařová and her team from Masaryk University debunk the myth that local news audiences are declining due to lack of interest. Through their study of Czech local news audiences, they discovered that while few Czech adults consume local news, it may be partly related to the availability of local news across platforms.

Local news availability is truly under threat around the world. Marc Edge from University Canada West suggests that Canadian regulators have not done enough to curb anti-competitive behaviour by Canadian newspaper chains and that readers who now have fewer news sources to choose from are paying the price.

Phillip Napoli’s team at Rutgers University notes significant differences in local news availability in different regions of the United States. The Rutgers analysis suggests that while some communities may be able to continue under current models of financing, advertising and audience availability, others will need to find creative ways to remain viable.

Local news and technology

Technology may be an additional contributing factor to the decline of local news availability. However, it also offers some innovative solutions.

Twitter isn’t much of a replacement for actual local news coverage, according to research. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

The first author of this piece, Jaigris Hodson, did research at Royal Roads University to examine whether the popular social media platform Twitter can pick up the slack in election coverage when a local newspaper is shut down. She found that topics that trend on Twitter tend to be national rather than local or hyper-local in scope. This research adds to a growing number of studies of social media that suggest it cannot by itself make up for declining traditional sources of local news.

Despite this, there is promise in the use of technology to understand the state of local news. Claus Rinner’s team at Ryerson University combined geographic information systems and news content analysis in a new method for understanding patterns of local news coverage.

April Lindgren from Ryerson University and Jon Corbett from UBC showed how participatory mapping can be used to track changes to local news outlets. Finally, work by the second author of this piece, Asmaa Malik, along with Gavin Adamson at Ryerson University, shows the potential for what’s known as natural language processing to help local news audiences and journalists assess news quality. This type of technological initiative is much needed in an era of fake news.

A future bound with our own

Taken all together, the research shows that the future of local news is sobering but not without some measure of hope. By illuminating both the values and challenges besetting local journalism, we can re-imagine a future for local news where some of these challenges may be addressed more clearly.

Perhaps new business models, such as entrepreneurship, can offer one way to help fill a gap that has been left by the old-media monopoly model.

At Ryerson University, for example, journalism-related startups are developing innovative tools and services to serve their communities with news via the Digital News Innovation Challenge.

Local news will not survive if it tries to simply put old wine into new bottles. Instead, local news producers must create news that resonates with their communities. The crowd-sourcing technologies developed by Lindgren and Corbett and the mapping tool created by Rinner’s team may lead to more precise, targeted efforts to address the needs of diverse local news audiences.

At the very least, they encourage us to think outside the box and remember that the audience needs to be attended to before they are ready to pay attention.

Finally, we must remember that local news can be more meaningful to communities when those who deliver it are part of the fabric of that community.

Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna is surrounded by media during the Council of Federation meetings in Edmonton in July 2017. It’s important that local reporters cover local events, not reporters from afar. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Smith’s work on charitable giving showed this, as did Buchanan’s work on independent hyper-local media. A local news organization run by a faceless national corporation will perhaps not be able to garner the support of a community the way a local news outlet can. For this reason, we are encouraged to reflect on the right scale for local news. Small may very well be the new big when it comes to ensuring the sustainability of local and community news over time.

Local news availability impacts each of us in all of our communities. The future of local news is tightly bound with our own as we continue to face the political and economic uncertainties of our times.

The ConversationThis piece is a modified version of the Editors’ Note from our recent publication: The Future of Local News: Research and Reflections, accessible at

Jaigris Hodson, Assistant Professor of Digital Research, Royal Roads University and Asmaa Malik, Assistant professor, Ryerson University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How to get culture right when embedding it into AI

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MIT’s experiment with a serial killing AI called Norman, based on Psycho’s Norman Bates, underscores the importance of ensuring we get it right when embedding AI with culture.
William Michael Carter, Ryerson University


If, like Rip Van Winkle, you’ve been asleep for the last decade and have just woken up, that flip phone you have has become super-popular among retro technologists and survivalists alike, and, oh yeah, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is either going to kill you or save you.

AI is the latest in a long line of technology buzzwords that have gripped society, and if we are to believe the people at the respected technology analysts firm Gartner Inc., 2018 will be the year in which AI is truly integrated into our daily lives. As unnerving as the surreal robotics being cooked up at Boston Dynamics or the deployment of facial recognition AI in Chinese public schools may seem, this technology is a product of the human condition and as such, we are embedding our own culture within its coded DNA.

Debates about AI currently focus on the notion of ethics. In the study of culture, ethics are embedded within values, and they’ve become an important part of the deliberations about how AI will integrate into our lives. What hasn’t been discussed is whose ethics, and ultimately whose values, we are talking about.

Is it Western versus Eastern, or is it American versus everyone else? As values within culture are influenced by the community and larger society, ethics are dependent on the cultural context in which communal values have developed.


Thus, culture plays an important role in the formation of AI through what’s known as the enculturation of that data.

Anthropologist Genevieve Bell, the previous Intel vice-president and cultural visionary, was able to steer the tech giant towards a more profound understanding of how culture and AI interplay with each other.

Genevieve Bell is seen in this 2015 photo at the Women Innovation & Technology summit in Miami Beach, Fla.
(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Bell’s research indicated that human interaction with technology is not culturally universal. It is neither the same nor objective, and we encode culture within and throughout technology at a conscious and unconscious level.

If this is true, what happens in the eventual development of culture in AI?

For anthropologists, human cultural evolution has many markers: The manipulation of tools, the development of abstract thought, and more fundamentally, the creation of language in which to communicate.

Culture begins when two or more living entities start to communicate and exchange information and, with more complexity, ideas. Cultural development among non-human AI entities is something that hasn’t been discussed yet, let alone the melding of human and AI culture.

Bots developed their own language

Recently, Facebook’s AI research group (FAIR) made brief mention of an experiment in which two bots were tasked with negotiating with each other. It was reported at the time that the bots began to develop a more efficient language to communicate with one another.

Facebook computer science researchers quickly pulled the plug on what was rapidly becoming the development of a more efficient AI language between the two bots, not because they were frightened of the emergence of AI self-creation, but because the bots did not return expected results — a negotiation in English.

In a world where code is essentially made up of zeroes and ones, yes or no commands, there isn’t much room for the unexpected. But at times, we should embrace the opportunity and explore the possibilities, as culture does not manifest itself in a singular fashion.

Culture is what we make it. It is a set of norms that we as a society agree upon, consciously or unconsciously, and it frames how we operate within our daily lives.

Read more:
Here’s how Canada can be a global leader in ethical AI

AI can absorb cultures

AI has the unique ability in the future to absorb all of the world’s cultural norms and values, developing a potentially true pan-global culture. But first, we, the creators of AI, must understand our roles and how we impact that ability to absorb. AI represents, after all, a microcosm of the culture of the people who build it as well as those who provide input into AI’s foundational data framework.

Science-fiction novelist Alastair Reynolds, in his book Absolution Gap, describes a planet in which the only intelligent creature is a vast sea that absorbs information from the beings and creatures that swim in it. The sea learns from that information and redistributes that knowledge to other beings.

Called “pattern juggling” in the book, the current manifestation of AI as we know it is very much like that fictional sea, absorbing knowledge and selectively distributing it with its own enculturated data.

Using Reynolds’ knowledge-absorbing ocean as an example, AI is currently like the separated salt and fresh water bodies of Earth — each with its own ecosystem, isolated and independent.

What happens when these very unique ecosystems begin to communicate with each other? How will norms and values be determined as the various AI entities begin to exchange information and negotiate realities within their newly formed cultures?

Norman is a warning

MIT’s Norman, an AI personality based on a fictional psychopath produced a singular example of what we have long known in humans: With prolonged exposure to violence comes a fractured view of cultural norms and values. This represents a real danger to future exposure and transmission to other AI.

How so?

An example of personalities going awry when brought together?
The Associated Press





Envision Norman and Alexa hooking up. Both AI’s are representative of the people who made them, the human data that they consume and a built-in need to learn. So whose cultural values and norms would be more persuasive?

Norman was built to see all data from the lens of a psychopath, while Alexa as a digital assistant is just looking to please. There are countless human examples of similar personalities going awry when brought together.

Social scientists argue that the debate over AI is set to explode and, as a result, that multiple versions of AI are bound to co-exist.

The ConversationAs philosophers, anthropologists and other social scientists begin to voice their concerns, the time is ripe for society to reflect on AI’s desired usefulness, to question the realities and our expectations, and to influence its development into a truly pan-global cultural environment.

William Michael Carter, Assistant Professor, Creative Industries, Ryerson University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.