Hacked Off has found that under an article about 5G mast locations published by The Sun newspaper on 6th April, several reader comments falsely alleged 5G was unsafe.
The article in question allows readers a way to approximately locate where masts had been erected, and was published in the knowledge that attacks on 5G masts were being reported around the UK. Yet comments alleging that this technology was unsafe were published and left accessible to The Sun’s millions of online readers for at least two weeks.
Several newspapers, including The Sun, have been critical of the spread of disinformation on social media platforms, and criticised social media companies for perceived inaction over the issue.
The research is set out below, and was published today by the DCMS Disinformation Sub-Committee as part of the evidence to its inquiry on disinformation about COVID-19 submitted by the Hacked Off Campaign.
Hacked Off Policy Director Nathan Sparkes said,
“This research shows that as the Sun newspaper was criticising celebrities and social media platforms for the spread of fake news about coronavirus, comments on its own website were broadcasting dangerous conspiracy theories to potentially millions of readers.
“The comments published, which remained accessible for over two weeks, include the allegations that 5G is dangerous and is being pushed by a global elite with a nefarious agenda. The Sun’s website reaches up to 7m people every day.
“To allow these posts to remain accessible as 5G towers were being attacked across the country is deeply irresponsible.
On the role of IPSO, the complaints-handler of which The Sun is a member, Sparkes said:
“IPSO claims to regulate the comment sections of newspaper websites yet it has not lifted a finger to address these posts, several of which directly allege that 5G is a danger to public health. It is not fit for purpose.
IPSO’s do-nothing approach is failing the public who need access to accurate information, and it is failing the media which is reliant on public trust.
On the Government’s Online Harms proposals, Sparkes said:
“The Government has gone out of its way to assure newspaper publishers that they will be unaffected by any new regulatory regime for Online Harms. That approach, that serious harms are acceptable if they are committed by a large and powerful news publisher, has never looked more backward or absurd.”
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