Coronavirus: Tech firms summoned over ‘crackpot’ 5G conspiracies
The culture secretary is to order social media companies to be more aggressive in their response to conspiracy theories linking 5G networks to the coronavirus pandemic.
Oliver Dowden plans to hold virtual meetings with representatives from several tech firms next week to discuss the matter.
It follows a number of 5G masts apparently being set on fire.
The issue will test the companies’ commitments to free speech.
“We have received several reports of criminal damage to phone masts and abuse of telecoms engineers apparently inspired by crackpot conspiracy theories circulating online,” a spokeswoman for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport told the BBC.
“Those responsible for criminal acts will face the full force of the law.
“We must also see social media companies acting responsibly and taking much swifter action to stop nonsense spreading on their platforms which encourages such acts.”
DCMS has yet to confirm which tech companies are being summoned.
False theories are being spread on smaller platforms such as Nextdoor, Pinterest and the petitions site Change.org as well as larger ones including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok.
Scientists have said the idea of a connection between Covid-19 and 5G is “complete rubbish” and biologically impossible.
Several of the platforms have already taken steps to address the problem but have not banned discussion of the subject outright.
Pinterest, for example, limits its search results for coronavirus and related terms to showing pinned information from recognised health organisations but does not have a comparable restriction for 5G.
Facebook said it had also removed a number of groups that were encouraging attacks on 5G masts.
However, a post entitled “burn baby burn – it’s begun”, which accompanied videos of telecoms equipment ablaze, has been allowed to remain online at this time.
Vodafone, one of the networks affected, has said the attacks are “now a matter of national security”.
“It beggars belief that some people should want to harm the very networks that are providing essential connectivity to the emergency services, the NHS, and rest of the country during this difficult lockdown period,” wrote UK chief executive Nick Jeffery.
“It also makes me angry to learn that some people have been abusing our engineers as they go about their business.
“Online stories connecting the spread of coronavirus to 5G are utterly baseless. Please don’t share them on social media – fake news can have serious consequences.”