Social media networks urged to action over 5G coronavirus conspiracy theories

A communications mast in Norwich. Picture: Archant.

A communications mast in Norwich. Picture: Archant. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

MPs are calling for social media companies to be held to account for the spread of conspiracy theories online linking 5G technology to the coronavirus outbreak.

It comes following reports of phone masts being attacked after theories spread online suggesting the rollout of 5G was linked to the Covid-19 outbreak.

A number of posts showing phone masts on fire, as well as others encouraging such behaviour, have been removed from platforms such as Facebook.

Numerous scientists have repeatedly stated that there is zero evidence to link 5G and Covid-19.

Social media platforms have each publicly committed to combating disinformation, with the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Google all placing official coronavirus advice at the top of search results and news feeds.

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However, some posts suggesting a link between the rollout of the mobile technology and the virus are still visible online.

'To hear that crackpot theories are leading to people attacking phone masts or threatening telecom workers is sickening and it's clearly time to act,' Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Select Committee chairman Julian Knight said.

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'We've called on the government to work with social media companies to stamp out deliberate attempts to spread fear about Covid-19 and it is right that they are being called to account for allowing disinformation on their platforms.'

Brendan Wren, professor of microbial pathogenesis at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: 'There is no scientifically credible evidence to link the introduction of 5G masts with the Covid-19 outbreak.

'This would be both a physical and biological impossibility.'

Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics at the University of Bristol, said targeting the internet connections and phone masts which were playing a vital part in the global response to the virus was akin to 'knocking holes in your lifeboats while your ship sinks'.

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In a joint letter, the UK's four largest mobile operators - EE, O2, Three and Vodafone - said the attacks on phone masts were harming people and businesses who depended on connectivity.

'Sadly, we have experienced cases of vandals setting fire to mobile masts, disrupting critical infrastructure and spreading false information suggesting a connection between 5G and the Covid-19 pandemic,' the letter said.

'There is no scientific evidence of any link between 5G and coronavirus. Fact.

'Stopping this is critical to keeping your communities connected. Not only are these claims baseless, they are harmful for the people and businesses that rely on the continuity of our services. They have also led to the abuse of engineers and, in some cases, prevented essential network maintenance taking place.'

O2 revealed last week it was issuing engineers working on essential projects with a sign to explain they are a key worker, after reports of telecoms staff being verbally abused by members of the public.

A spokesman for Facebook said it was taking action on posts making false claims about the coronavirus.

They said: 'We are taking aggressive steps to stop misinformation and harmful content from spreading on our platforms and connect people to accurate information about coronavirus.

'Under our existing policies against harmful misinformation, we are starting to remove false claims which link Covid-19 to 5G technology and could lead to physical harm.

'We will continue to work closely with governments and other tech companies to remove harmful misinformation and have partnered with health authorities like the WHO and NHS to connect people to the latest official guidance.'

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