Twitter puts fact-checking label on tweets linking 5G with coronavirus


A man stands next to a 5G sign at the Tencent Global Digital Ecosystem Summit in Kunming, China, May 23, 2019.

Stringer | Reuters

Twitter is adding fact-checking labels to tweets that wrongly link new superfast 5G mobile networks with the coronavirus. 

Instead of deleting or hiding such tweets, Twitter is showing a message on them that reads “Get the facts on Covid-19.” When clicked on, users are taken to a page titled “No 5G isn’t causing coronavirus” which debunks the conspiracy theory by linking to credible media websites and other official sources.

In a statement sent to CNBC, 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. As we’ve said previously, we will not take enforcement action on every Tweet that contains incomplete or disputed information about COVID-19.”

The introduction of the label comes after a Twitter pledge in May to fact-check coronavirus misinformation.

Tech companies including Twitter, Apple, YouTube, Spotify and Facebook have been accused of facilitating the spread of bogus claims that link 5G to the coronavirus by allowing content to be uploaded to their platforms. Critics say they’ve given a voice to conspiracy theorists like David Icke, who has been able to pass on his message to millions of people online via podcasts and interviews. Spotify removed a podcast featuring an interview with Icke after being alerted to it by CNBC last month, however Apple left the same podcast on its platform. 

False claims

News of Twitter’s latest labeling comes after dozens of cell towers were torched in the U.K., while telecom engineers have been harassed on the streets, apparently in connection with the bogus claims linking 5G technology with Covid-19. 

But there’s no evidence that 5G is in any way connected with the coronavirus pandemic. The World Health Organization recently put out an update to its Covid-19 “myth-busting” web page, stating that 5G does not cause the coronavirus.

For as long as there have been wireless networks, there have been fears of negative health impacts. Like previous cellular networks, 5G relies on transmissions from radio waves, which are part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Some people believe this radiation could impact people’s health.

But the radio waves used for mobile networks are non-ionizing, meaning they’re not powerful enough to remove electrons from atoms or molecules. The International Commission on Non‐Ionizing Radiation Protection, a global body that sets limits on exposure to radiation, deemed 5G safe earlier this year.

Twitter recently drew the ire of President Donald Trump after placing fact-checking labels alongside some of his tweets. The company also hid a post from Trump and the White House which used the phrase, “when the shooting starts, the looting starts,” for violating its policy on glorification of violence. Trump signed an executive order targeting social media “censorship” late last month.

Outsourcing moderation

A report published on Monday by New York University’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights called on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter to stop outsourcing content moderation.

“The widespread practice of relying on third-party vendors for content review amounts to an
outsourcing of responsibility for the safety of major social media platforms and their billions of users,” said Paul Barrett, deputy director of the center and author of the report.

“The results of this practice range from moderators not receiving the caliber of mental health care they deserve, to real-world violence in some countries where insufficient moderation leads to hateful content remaining online.”


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