By Rose Hayden, Hacked Off
Over the last few weeks there has been an outcry of panic over the newest generation of mobile network 5G, and the theory that it may be the concealed cause of the coronavirus pandemic. In recent days, some high-profile figures have fuelled the spread of misinformation to the mainstream on social networking platforms, sharing links about the theory that 5G is harmful and linked to the spread of Covid19. There have been suspected arson attacks on mobile phone masts and the Government has had to address the subject, with Michael Gove dismissing the theories as “dangerous nonsense”.
Ofcom have warned British broadcasters that they face sanctions if they give airtime to false health advice about this coronavirus. The independent broadcast regulator has been incredibly proactive and has said it is assessing comments made by TV presenter Eamonn Holmes about 5G technology and Covid19 “as a priority” and has also given a severe warning to a Sussex Radio Station for broadcasting baseless conspiracy theories that the pandemic is linked to the rollout of 5G phone networks.
This is what effective, independent regulation looks like. In stark contrast, press self-regulation body IPSO has been entirely useless.
One of the baseless 5G claims was initially fuelled by IPSO member the Daily Star, who claimed that 5G WiFi networks could be responsible for the rapid spread of the new coronavirus.
“Fears 5G wifi networks could be acting as ‘accelerator’ for disease” Daily Star 26/03/2020
Independent fact-checking campaign Full Fact debunked the theory presented in the article, saying:
“This is not true. There is no evidence that 5G WiFi networks are linked to the new coronavirus.”
The UK’s mobile networks reported that over the Easter weekend, the mast serving the emergency NHS Nightingale hospital in Birmingham was among 20 other cases of phone masts being targeted in suspected arson attacks by people who wrongly believe 5G technology is linked to the spread of coronavirus. After encouraging these claims, the Daily Star was then quick to condemn those who vandalised phone masts as ‘idiots’.
These arson attacks are especially worrying when learning that at the height of the conspiracy claims and attacks on mobile phone masts, The Sun chose to share details of the map locations of 5G masts around the country.
To be clear, these theories have been proven wrong by independent fact-checkers. Full Fact has shared information on where 5G and coronavirus conspiracy theories came from, which is a helpful when ensuring you are reading accurate information online.
Under this particular story in The Sun, the comment section proved to be a breeding ground for further conspiracy theories – exposing readers to more dangerous misinformation.
Whilst partially moderated, comments sections still allow dangerous messages to seep through – for some it could mean the difference between staying safe or putting yourself at risk. These comments pose a potential threat to public health and they are being legitimised by newspaper websites.
In the battle to curb the spread of disinformation, the first point of call for most governments is the likes of Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter, yet the above shows that online news content sites must take a share of the blame, and be held accountable for what they publish and allow readers to comment on.
Given sham press complaints-handler IPSO’s track record of inaction and complacency over the last five years – we are not hopeful that they are taking any steps to ensure responsible reporting on this virus or accountability for those who peddle disinformation during this crisis.
Examples such as the exposure given to 5G conspiracy theories in newspapers will help inform our submission to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport on the role newspapers have played in spreading disinformation during the Covid19 crisis.
Please help us by visiting our designated website forum page where you can flag Coronavirus misreporting in our newspapers, both online and in print. Click here to view.