Government and industry make plea for spread of misinformation to cease
Downing Street has hit out at a “crazed conspiracy theory” linking the coronavirus with the development of 5G.
The prime minister’s official spokesperson spoke out following reports of masts being vandalised by people who believe the claims. Videos have also emerged of people confronting telecommunications workers installing broadband cabling or 5G infrastructure.
Culture secretary Oliver Dowden is set to meet with representatives of the major social media firms this week to tell them to take down articles making the link.
Scientists have repeatedly said the claims are baseless, and any connection between Covid-19 and mobile data transmissions is biologically impossible.
NHS England medical director Stephen Powis branded the theories “the worst kind of fake news”, but there is evidence they are continuing to spread online.
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Asked about the subject, the prime minister’s official spokesperson said: “The secretary of state [Dowden] is due to speak with some of the big social media firms later on this week to be very clear about the need to stop the spread of what is a crazed conspiracy theory. You have seen reports of criminal vandalism against 5G masts. People need to understand that by destroying these masts, they’re actually putting lives at risk because these are masts which emergency responders rely upon.”
And chair of the DCMS select committee chair Julian Knight said social media companies must be held to account for the spread of conspiracy theories linking coronavirus to 5G.
He said: “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. 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.
“We’re also calling on Ofcom to investigate whether international news organisations are using social media to disseminate state-backed disinformation on Covid-19 in order to get around UK broadcasting regulation.”
Fears over 5G have been around ever since the technology began to be first introduced, with campaigners claiming the electromagnetic radiation emitted by transmissions was damaging to humans.
Despite regulators and industry bodies concluding there is no evidence the higher frequency waves will cause cancer or other illnesses, the theories have not gone away.
And they have become more popular in recent months since they have been linked to the coronavirus, starting on Facebook in the US back in January.
They have several strands, one suggesting the 5G weakens people’s immune systems and makes them more susceptible to catching the virus.
Another is that the virus can be transmitted through the use of 5G technology, while a third suggests the virus itself is a ruse to keep people inside while the infrastructure is built, all baseless.
Industry body Mobile UK said key workers had suffered abuse and threats from those who believe the claims, saying: “This is not acceptable and only impacts on our ability as an industry to maintain the resilience and operational capacity of the networks to support mass home working and critical connectivity to the emergency services, vulnerable consumers and hospitals.”
And the GSMA group of global mobile network operators said: “It is deplorable that critical communications infrastructure is being attacked based on outright mistruths. We urge everyone to trust health authorities and rest assured communications technology is safe. There is no link between 5G and Covid-19.”