UK government to meet social media firms over ‘crackpot’ 5G conspiracies

6 Apr 2020

Image: © serhio777/

The UK government is stepping in to try and halt the spread of theories linking coronavirus to 5G technology.

The UK government is planning talks with some of the major social media platforms in a bid to tackle the spread of conspiracy theories suggesting links between the coronavirus and 5G.

The news comes after there were fires at mobile phone masts in Belfast, Birmingham and Merseyside last week. There are concerns that people are attacking telecoms infrastructure because of conspiracy theories linking 5G technology to the spread of Covid-19.

Prof Stephen Powis, the national director of NHS England, condemned the fires. Powis said that the phone networks that were attacked are used by emergency services and health workers.

“I’m absolutely outraged, absolutely disgusted, that people would be taking action against the very infrastructure that we need to respond to this health emergency. It is absolute and utter rubbish.”

According to the Guardian, UK culture secretary Oliver Dowden is now set to hold talks with social media firms including Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Twitter.

Intervention on social media

A spokesperson for the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport told BBC: “We have received several reports of criminal damage to phone masts and abuse of telecoms engineers apparently inspired by crackpot conspiracy theories circulating online.

“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.”

On Sunday (5 April), YouTube agreed to reduce the amount of content on the platform that links 5G technology with Covid-19. The company said that it will actively remove videos that breach its policies, but said that it does not plan to remove content that is simply conspiratorial about 5G, without mentioning the coronavirus.

A spokesperson for the company said: “We have clear policies that prohibit videos promoting medically unsubstantiated methods to prevent the coronavirus in place of seeking medical treatment, and we quickly remove videos violating these policies when flagged to us.

“We have also begun reducing recommendations of borderline content such as conspiracy theories related to 5G and coronavirus that could misinform users in harmful ways.”

Theories linking 5G and Covid-19 have been spread on various social media sites by celebrities with significant platforms, including Amanda Holden, Woody Harrelson, boxer Amir Khan and pop star Anne-Marie.

Response from the telecoms industry

Nick Jeffery, CEO of Vodafone UK, commented on the attack that affected one of the company’s masts.

“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 the rest of the country during this lockdown period,” he said.

Director general of industry organisation GSMA, Mats Granryd, said: “The telecoms industry is working around the clock to keep vital health, education and emergency services online, businesses running, and friends and families connected.

“It is deplorable that critical communications infrastructure is being attacked based on outright mistruths. We urge everyone to trust health authorities and rest assured communications technology is safe. There is no link between 5G and Covid-19.”

Scientists have said that a connection between the coronavirus and 5G is “complete rubbish” and biologically impossible.

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic