Twitter Is Trying to Crack Down on 5G Conspiracy Theories

Photo: Cindy Ord, Getty Images
Photo: Cindy Ord, Getty Images

Twitter shows no signs of letting up on fact-checking false tweets. The social media platform is now labelling tweets that falsely tie the rollout of 5G to the spread of covid-19 with a fact-checking link, Business Insider spotted. This comes just days after Twitter cracked down on President Trump with a voter-fraud fact check and hid tweets of his that incited violence against protesters.

“Get the facts about covid-19,” the new label reads, and the link directs to this hub of tweets and articles that debunk the conspiracy theory.

“We have broadened our guidance on unverified claims that incite people to engage in harmful activity, could lead to the destruction or damage of critical 5G infrastructure, or could lead to widespread panic, social unrest, or large-scale disorder,” Twitter said.

As Business Insider points out, conspiracy theories linking the radiofrequency waves from wireless phones to cancer have been spreading for years. But now those conspiracy theories have expanded to include 5G, which operates at a higher frequency and requires more infrastructure. Misinformation about how 5G works has inspired people to burn down 5G towers around the world. One conspiracy theory claims that 5G weakens immune systems, and therefore makes people more susceptible to contracting covid-19. There is so scientific evidence to support this, however. UK regulators, for instance, have found that the amount of electromagnetic radiation 5G towers emit is well below international guidelines.

However, Twitter isn’t removing tweets that spread the false information, and Twitter’s algorithm for identifying such tweets isn’t perfect.

“As we’ve said previously, we will not take enforcement action on every tweet that contains incomplete or disputed information about covid-19,” a Twitter spokesperson told BI.

A quick search for the terms ‘5G’ and ‘coronavirus’ on Twitter turns up the fact-check label on tweets posted by people who very clearly believe that 5G causes covid-19 — but the algorithm doesn’t find every single one. The fact-check label is also applied to many tweets about 5G and covid-19 that are sarcastic in nature, and there are a handful of users who appear to be running various tests to see what combination of ‘5G’ and ‘coronavirus’ will trigger the fact-check label on their tweet.

But fact-check labels alone won’t help curtail Twitter’s bigger problem: bots. A recent study from Carnegie Mellon University found that bots and fake accounts were a major driving force behind the ‘reopen America’ Twitter campaign. Clearly, bots are not deterred by fact-checking labels — though the real people who retweet those fake accounts might be.