Conspiracy theorist David Icke has had his main Facebook page deleted amid mounting calls for social media companies to combat "dangerous misinformation". Icke, a former sports commentator, is a vocal backer of the conspiracy theory that 5G technology spreads coronavirus, which has prompted a wave of attacks on engineers and masts. Doctors, MPs and counter-extremism campaigners are calling on internet giants to stop their platforms being used to "amplify Icke's racism and misinformation about Covid-19 to millions of people". It comes after broadcaster London Live was sanctioned for an interview with Icke, and ITV presenter Eamonn Holmes apologised for suggesting that denying 5G claims "suits the state narrative". Research by Ofcom shows that 5G conspiracy theories are the most common piece of misinformation that members of the British public encounter online.
Anxieties over the growing coronavirus pandemic are making people increasingly susceptible to misinformation, with conspiracy theories linking 5G wireless technology to COVID-19 gaining traction in recent weeks. The conspiracy has been spread by celebrities, including Woody Harrelson and John Cusack, as well as lesser known influencers and online trolls. And in the last 10 days, they've had real-world consequences, with at least 20 phone masts vandalized across the United Kingdom. The unfounded conspiracy theories reportedly began when a Belgian doctor speculated to a national newspaper about 5G masts in Wuhan, China, where the new coronavirus originated. Despite the article being removed after a few hours because the comments were baseless, the narrative was picked up by conspiratorial Internet personalities and has spread across the Internet as the coronavirus fans anxieties around the world.
Online conspiracy theories and misinformation relating to Covid-19 have resulted in at least 800 deaths from coronavirus, new research has revealed. The so-called "infodemic" resulted in around 5,800 people being admitted to hospital as a result of following false information on social media in the first three months of this year. A study published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene detailed examples of misleading rumours, conspiracy theories and stigma surrounding the pandemic. Rumours include claims that drinking cleaning products, hand sanitiser or cow urine can cure coronavirus. False conspiracy theories range from fears that Covid-19 is a bio-weapon funded by Bill Gates, to accusations that Covid-19 has been engineered to damage US President Donald Trump's chance of re-election.
For years, critics have all but begged social media platforms to take a tougher stance on misinformation and disinformation. But Facebook and Twitter were once more resistant to these calls. Mark Zuckerberg has for years said Facebook should not be an "arbiter of truth." Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey once said the same of Twitter. And while Facebook and Twitter's policies have evolved since "fake news" became a mainstream issue in 2016, the past year has seen some of the most dramatic changes when it comes to their efforts to combat misinformation -- and it was all because of the pandemic.
Unregulated social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube may present a health risk to the UK because they are spreading conspiracy theories about coronavirus. That's the conclusion of a peer-reviewed study published in the journal Psychological Medicine, which finds people who get their news from social media sources are more likely to break lockdown rules. The research team from Kings College London suggests social media news sites may need to do more to regulate misleading content. "One wonders how long this state of affairs can be allowed to persist while social media platforms continue to provide a worldwide distribution mechanism for medical misinformation," the report concludes. The study analysed surveys conducted across Britain in April and May this year.