Coronavirus: tech companies summoned for 5G conspiracies

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Masts

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The culture secretary must order social media companies to be more aggressive in responding to the conspiracy theories linking 5G networks to the coronavirus pandemic.

Oliver Dowden plans to hold virtual meetings with representatives from several tech companies next week to discuss the issue.

It follows a number of 5G masts which are said to have been burnt down.

This issue will test companies’ commitments to freedom of expression.

Earlier in the week, fires were reported at the masts of Birmingham, Liverpool and Melling in Merseyside.

A spokesperson for Vodafone’s mobile network told the BBC that there had been a total of four other incidents in the past 24 hours on its own sites and those shared with O2, but did not identify the locations .

“We have received several reports of criminal damage to telephone poles and abuse of telecommunications engineers, apparently based on crackpot conspiracy theories circulating online,” a spokesperson for the Department told the BBC. digital, culture, media and sports.

“Those responsible for criminal acts will be subject to the full force of the law.

“We also need to see social media companies act responsibly and take much faster action to prevent the spread of nonsense on their platforms, which encourages such acts.” “

DCMS has not yet confirmed which technology companies are being called.

“Complete waste”

False theories are spreading on smaller platforms such as Nextdoor, Pinterest and the petition site Change.org as well as on larger ones, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok.

Scientists have said the idea of ​​a connection between Covid-19 and 5G is “completely out of whack” and biologically impossible.

Several platforms have already taken steps to resolve the issue, but have not banned discussion of the topic.

Pinterest, for example, limits its search results for coronaviruses and related terms to display pinned information from reputable health organizations, but has no comparable restriction for 5G.

Facebook said it had also removed a number of groups that were promoting attacks on 5G masts.

However, an article titled “Burn Baby Burn – It’s Started”, which accompanied videos of burning telecommunications equipment, was only removed about six hours after being reported to the company’s press office.

YouTube prohibits certain types of fake messages on Covid-19, but classifies the conspiracy theories linking the virus to 5G as “borderline content.” As a result, he said he was trying to reduce the frequency that his algorithms recommended, but did not delete the videos from his platform.

A spokesperson for the Google-owned service said she intended to “assess the impact” of this approach. However, he deleted a video reported by the BBC that contained threatening language.

Change.org said its open nature allows anyone to file a petition on any issue they are interested in, but added that they must follow their guidelines to stay online.

“We have removed a number of petitions from the platform making unsubstantiated health claims regarding 5G,” added a spokesperson.

Vodafone said the attacks are “now a matter of national security”.

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“This suggests that some people may want to harm the very networks that provide essential connectivity to emergency services, the NHS and the rest of the country during this difficult lockdown,” wrote British chief executive Nick Jeffery.

“It also makes me angry to learn that some people have abused our engineers in the course of their work.

“The online stories linking the spread of the coronavirus to 5G are completely baseless. Please do not share it on social media – fake news can have serious consequences. “

The GSMA – a trade organization representing the broader mobile industry – also urged social media and other content hosting providers to “speed up their efforts to remove fake news” about the problem.

The campaign against 5G has flourished on social media for a year.

Facebook in particular is full of groups claiming the technology is dangerous, with many of them also pushing anti-vaccine messages.

Until recently, aside from the strange fact-checking message alongside the messages, companies have done little to combat this trend. Neither Twitter nor YouTube, for example, have the option in their reporting systems to report false information.

Even on Friday, complaints to Facebook moderators regarding a group that appeared to encourage arson on 5G masts received responses saying that the page “did not violate the standards of our community” – although, after the BBC contacted Facebook’s press service, it has been deleted.

Social media platforms are normally reluctant to restrict what they see as an essential part of their mission: to give people the right to freedom of expression, however bizarre or unscientific it may be.

But these are not normal times.

The government is indeed waging a war against a deadly virus, and key workers in critical infrastructure are facing abuse, perhaps inspired by these social media activists.

This means that there is now intense pressure on the likes of Facebook, YouTube, TikTok and Twitter to fight what a minister has called “dangerous nonsense” – and they will want to be seen as acting responsibly. , even if some of their users cry censorship.

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