Due to Coronavirus this year's Great Debate will be a virtual affair

The University of Birmingham's Vice Chancellor's Great Debate will be discussing "trolls, flat-earthers and fake news purveyors" with participation from a panel compromising of well-known British journalists, writers and academics.

Due to the Coronavirus pandemic the debate will be broadcasted for FREE on YouTube for the first time on Wednesday 27 May at 19.00hrs (UK Time).

Moderated by Ritula Shah, journalist and regular presenter of The World Tonight on BBC Radio 4 the panel of Anne McElvoy Senior Editor, The Economist, Will Moy, Chief Executive, Full Fact, Isabel Oakeshott Political journalist and commentator and the University of Birmingham's Alice Roberts, Professor of Public Engagement in Science will shed light on the complex world of social media and the baggage that comes with it.

As social media has grown rapidly since the early 2000s and there are now an estimated 3.5 billion users worldwide, these online platforms have helped people stay in touch, make connections and share experiences. They have also helped give a voice to people who may not have had the opportunity to speak out before. And yet, there is a dark side to social media. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how misinformation can spread quickly and cause real harm. The growth of fake news, combined with increasing distrust some have of conventional news sources, can leave us open to manipulation that affects our day-to-day lives and even national political campaigns. Critics also highlight the prevalence of online abuse, particularly – but by no means exclusively – targeted at women and ethnic minorities.

Professor Sir David Eastwood, Vice-Chancellor and Principal at the University of Birmingham, said: “Now in its third year, the Vice-Chancellor’s Great Debate has adapted to the extraordinary situation in which we find ourselves. The subject matter of trolls, flat-earthers, and fake news purveyors is particularly apt, especially given the challenges we now face in trusting social media. Online platforms have been integral in keeping people connected and enabling them to share experiences during the Coronavirus outbreak, yet misinformation is spreading rapidly and causing real harm.  The growth of fake news, combined with increasing distrust some have of conventional news sources, has left society vulnerable as online abuse has become even more prevalent."

"Our virtual discussion will be an opportunity to hear both sides of the debate, and what better way to conduct the proceedings in an online capacity.  I am particularly honoured that the BBC's Ritula Shah will be again moderating the debate for what will be an evening of differences of opinion, dialogue and probing questions.”

This event forms part of ‘The Vice-Chancellor’s Distinguished Lecture Series,’ which aims to reflect on the major social, scientific, cultural and policy issues of our time.

People are encouraged to also engage in the thought-provoking debate by joining the twitter conversation during the broadcast using the hashtag #UoBGreatDebate

For more information or interviews, please contact: Hasan Salim Patel, Communications Manager (Arts, Law and Social Sciences) on +44 (0) 121 415 8134 or contact the press office out of hours on +44 (0) 7789 921 165

About the University of Birmingham

The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers, teachers and more than 6,500 international students from over 150 countries.

The debate will not be live as it was pre-recorded earlier and will be aired in its entirety.