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  • U.N. Association explores social media hacking

    Tom Durkin

    Nevada City Advocate

    If you were one of the 50 million people targeted in the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scheme, you probably received deceptive or outright false information about the 2016 presidential candidates and the election process, according to Katherine Scourtes, the newly elected president of the Golden Empire chapter (Nevada County) of the United Nations Association USA (UNA-USA).

    Part of the mission of UNA-USA is to make global issues relevant to our local community, she said.

    Tuesday, April 17, the UNA-USA monthly meeting gets relevant with an informational presentation on what the Cambridge Analytica (CA) privacy/data breach means to you – and to our democracy, Scourtes announced.

    The Zen Tech team of Paule Castro and Glen Farr from community radio KVMR will provide examples of the personality types targeted by the CA process. 

    They will also show how Russian disinformational propaganda was – and still is – exploiting social media platforms to mislead voters and/or inflame societal discord, Scourtes said.

    “The Zen Tech team will share what means are available to limit your exposure to unauthorized use of your personal data,” she stated.

    The April 17 meeting starts at 5 p.m. with a social gathering and potluck snacks at the Unitarian Universalist Community of the Mountains (UUCM) at 246 South Church St. in Grass Valley. The UUCM UN Association is a co-sponsor of the event.

    The meeting gets down to business at 5:30 p.m. with a 30- to 45-minute presentation by Castro and Farr followed a 15 to 30-minute question and answer session.

    Starting in March, the joint UNA-USA and UUCM-UNA meetings began convening at 5:30 p.m. instead of 3:30 p.m.

    “We wanted to make it easier for more young people and working professionals to attend,” Scourtes explained.

    The UNA-USA mission is strictly apolitical, she insisted. It’s simply a forum to inform interested citizens of what is happening in world affairs.

    At the February meeting, the primary topic was explaining the history and current events of what is happening in the extremely complex and bloody conflict among the Syrians, Syrian rebels, Turks, Kurds, Iraqis, ISIS, Israelis, Russians and the United States.

    Scourtes recounted the historical roots of the conflict, and Dave MacLeod of the UUCM-UNA board described the ruthless crossfire war currently devastating the Mideast.

    In honor of the National Women’s History Month, the March meeting was devoted to human rights in general and women’s rights in particular. Specifically, the topic of discussion was the positive and increasing impact educated women are having on the world of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), Scourtes reported.

    As it did in the March meeting, the April gathering is offering free literature. The 70-year-old United Nations “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” and “The Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women” will be available.

    Additionally, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has provided three, pocket-sized “Know Your Rights” information cards. 

    Besides the free monthly meetings, the Golden Empire chapter of the UNA-USA and UUCM-UNA actively support UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) in separate fund-raising events.

    Although it is the second largest component of the UN, UNICEF is not directly funded by the UN, Scourtes revealed.

    UNICEF relies on voluntary contributions from governments and NGOs (non-governmental organizations), she said.

    UNA-USA is an NGO, and Nevada County’s Golden Empire chapter has teamed up with other Northern California chapters to raise the $30,000 necessary to fund a school classroom in a refugee camp in Kenya for the next 10 years, Scourtes said.

    “And we’ve raised another $8,000 toward a second school classroom,” she added.

    While many may consider the United Nations a distant and largely ineffectual organization, the U.N. is the “only gravitational center” for global solutions, asserted Board Member Helen Williamson at the Feb. 20 meeting.


    “There are so many misconceptions about the U.N.,” Scourtes agreed. 

    For instance, the widely misinterpreted Agenda 21 of the U.N. is not an evil conspiracy, Scourtes told the Advocate Feb. 24. It’s simply a 178-nation agreement to leave to our children a livable, better world. 

    “It has no force of law,” she said.

    As flawed as it is with 193-member nations and territories, the U.N. is the world’s best hope for global solutions to war, famine, poverty, health, education, human rights and the environment, she argued. 

    “The U.N. is not perfect,” Scourtes concluded, but, “it’s just our best hope” of promoting peace, ending famine, sustaining our environment, improving world health and saving our children.”

    Tom Durkin is a freelance writer and photographer in Nevada County. Contact him at tdurkin@vfr.net or www.tomdurkin-writer.net.

    About the photo: Katherine Scourtes, president of the Golden Empire chapter of the United Nations Association – USA, presented the origins of the Syrian conflict to guests at the Feb. 20 meeting. The next UNA-USA gathering is scheduled for Tuesday, April 17, at the Unitarian Universalist Community of the Mountains in Grass Valley. The topic will be the political hacking of social media.

    Photo by Tom Durkin