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Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey addresses students during a town hall at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in New Delhi, India, November 12, 2018

Twitter flags tweets linking 5G with coronavirus

Image credit: REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis/File Photo

Twitter has started attaching fact-checking links to tweets which mention an unfounded connection between 5G technology and the coronavirus pandemic.

The pandemic has inspired a flood of deceptions, ranging from ineffectual health advice to dangerous conspiracy theories.

The unfounded conspiracy theory that the rollout of 5G is linked to the coronavirus pandemic (such as by compromising the human immune system) has been promoted by David Icke and several high-profile celebrities, inspiring a wave of arson attacks against mobile infrastructure and even telecommunications engineers. At least 90 mobile masts are reported to have been attacked by arsonists in the UK alone, including a mast serving an temporary Covid-19 Nightingale hospital in Birmingham.

There is no scientific evidence that 5G technology could cause any harm to humans.

Now, Twitter is taking action against tweets promoting this particular cluster of conspiracy theories. Rather than removing tweets entirely, it is flagging them with fact-check labels which state: “Get the facts on Covid-19”.

Clicking the link takes the user to a thread (“No, 5G isn’t causing coronavirus”) debunking 5G-coronavirus claims via links to trusted news articles, tweets, fact-checking organisations and official sources.

So far, it appears that the label can also be applied to content which does not explicitly connect 5G and the virus; for instance, tweets containing the messages “Today I will get the facts about 5G corona” or “5G corona turned me into a foot fetishist” have been flagged with the same fact-check label applied to more explicit and sincere tweets.

False claims are circulating primarily on social media, leading lawmakers to call on platforms to tackle coronavirus misinformation. Twitter aims to link to verified information beneath all tweets containing false claims about the virus; Facebook has promised to remove false claims and direct users towards trusted sources of information when they search for Covid-19 related terms, and YouTube has said that it will remove content which contradicts WHO advice and which makes an explicit connection between 5G and the virus.

Twitter appears to have taken less action to remove user-generated content containing misinformation. However, the social media platform has earned some praise for flagging tweets from high-profile figures such as US President Donald Trump which contain misinformation, glorify violence or otherwise violate site policy. Facebook has so far declined to take similar action against identical content.

A Twitter spokesperson said: “We’re prioritising the removal of Covid-19 content when it has a call to action that could potentially cause harm.

“We will not take enforcement action on every Tweet [sic] that contains incomplete or disputed information about Covid-19. Last month, we announced that we are introducing new labels and warning messages to provide additional context and information on some Tweets containing disputed or misleading information related to Covid-19.”

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