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The internet has transformed the way people consume, produce, and disseminate information about the world. This transformation has democratised access to knowledge and driven societal progress. The COVID-19 pandemic exemplifies this, with global researchers collaborating virtually across borders to mitigate harms of the disease and vaccine populations. At the same time, however, it has enabled the low-cost production and proliferation of harmful scientific misinformation. Scientific discussions on issues related to vaccines, 5G, and climate change have all been affected, with some describing the challenge as an ‘infodemic’ and a contributory factor to vaccine hesitancy and physical violence.

In this online information environment, how can we ensure that people are provided with the best quality content to guide important decisions? How has the internet changed the way we consume and produce information? How might discussions about scientific topics be affected?

The UK's national academy of science, the Royal Society, explored this question with leading scientists, major technology companies, prominent fact-checkers, and others. The findings and recommendations of this work were published in its report entitled ‘The online information environment: understanding how the internet shapes people’s engagement with scientific information.’

This online discussion brought together two members of the report to discuss its findings: Professor Melissa Terras (Professor of Digital Cultural Heritage, University of Edinburgh) and Dr Vint Cerf ForMemRS (Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist, Google). Opening remarks were made by the project’s chair, Professor Frank Kelly FRS (Emeritus Professor of Mathematics of Systems, University of Cambridge). The event outlined the key findings and recommendations of the report and delved into the complex challenges which exist in the online information environment.

About the speakers

  • Professor Melissa Terras is the Director of the Centre for Data, Culture & Society, and Professor of Digital Cultural Heritage at the University of Edinburgh.
  • Dr Vint Cerf ForMemRS is Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist at Google and, as the co-designer of the TCP/IP protocols, is widely known as one of the ‘Fathers of the Internet’.
  • Professor Frank Kelly is the Chair of the Royal Society’s Digital Technology and Information project and Emeritus Professor of Mathematics of Systems at the University of Cambridge.