Monday 6 April 2020 1:40 pm

Pressure builds on social media firms to stamp out ‘crazed’ 5G conspiracy theories

Social media firms are under fierce pressure to stamp out misinformation about 5G amid fears the spread of conspiracy theories is putting lives at risk.

Phone masts have been set alight in locations across the UK due to posts circulating online falsely claiming that there is a link between mobile phone technology and the coronavirus outbreak.

There is no evidence to support these claims, which have been debunked by mobile industry and healthcare experts and the government.

Mobile infrastructure is critical both to the wider population and to medical staff who rely on the technology for the emergency response to the crisis.

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden will this week talk to major social media companies about the need to stamp out the “crazed conspiracy theory”.

A No 10 spokesperson said: “By destroying these masts they’re putting lives at risk — these are masts that emergency responders rely upon.”

The calls were echoed by MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, who urged the government to hold tech firms to account for their role in the spread of the 5G conspiracy theories.

“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,” said committee chair Julian Knight.

“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.”

In a joint statement issued yesterday the UK’s four mobile operators urged people to report misinformation about 5G, saying stopping vandalism was critical for keeping the country connected.

“Not only are these claims baseless, they are harmful for the people and businesses that rely on the continuity of our services,” they said.

In addition to vandalism, the 5G conspiracy theories have fuelled abuse towards telecoms engineers and, in some cases, have prevented essential maintenance work from taking place.

“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,” a Facebook spokesperson said.

“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.”