Several mobile phone towers across the UK went up in flames this week after a bogus conspiracy theory linking the pandemic to the rollout of 5G began to pick up traction online. This string of arsons, as well as widespread reports of related physical and verbal threats directed at broadband engineers, has authorities calling for talks with some of the biggest names in social media to stop this fearmongering in its tracks.
According to a weekend Guardian report, UK Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden will hold talks with Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Twitter, and other social media platforms “to hammer this message home” that these rumours are just that—baseless rumours.
There’s no scientific evidence to support that radiation from 5G mobile phone towers somehow can lead to negative health effects, as one theory claims. Upon further investigation, UK regulators also found that the electromagnetic radiation levels given off by these 5G towers fell well below international guidelines.
National Health Service Medical Director Stephen Powis called this hoax “the worst kind of fake news,” per the report. “It is absolute, utter rubbish and I can’t condemn it in terms stronger than that.”
“The reality is that the mobile phone networks are absolutely critical to all of us, particularly in a time when we are asking people to stay at home and not see relatives and friends,” Powis continued. “But, in particular, those are also the phone networks used by our emergency services and our health workers and I am absolutely outraged, absolutely disgusted, that people would be taking action against the very infrastructure that we need to respond to this health emergency.”
YouTube vowed Sunday to curb the spread of these conspiracy theories on its platform, the Guardian reported. Its policies already ban videos that promote “medically unsubstantiated” treatments or prevention methods for covid-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus. Moving forward, any video linking 5G to the outbreak will also be classified as “borderline content”—which can suppress its appearance in search results and cut possible advertising revenue.
Several social media platforms have been scrambling to keep potentially dangerous misinformation about the novel coronavirus outbreak from circulating, but this particular hoax has been championed online by several celebrities, thus adding exponentially more fuel to the fire and generating increasing concern among government officials.