Coronavirus ‘misinformation’ led to attacks on 5G masts and engineers

Social media companies stand accused of allowing “misinformation, disinformation, scams and cybercrime” to spread online during the Covid-19 crisis.

MPs say there have been “attacks on frontline workers and criticalnational infrastructure as a result of alarmist conspiracy theories”.

And they warned: “False narratives have resulted in people harming themselves by resorting to dangerous hoax cures or forgoing medical treatment altogether.”

The findings were published by the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which is chaired by Solihull MP Julian Knight.including Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott.

Topics the committee looked at included the use of social media to spread a conspiracy theory that 5G mobile phone technology was causing coronavirus.

Phone company BT told the inquiry that in the month from March 23 to April 23 there were 30 separate incidents of arson, attempted arson and other forms of sabotage on mobile masts delivering services to its customers, including the use of petrol bombs.

Network EE said its staff and contractors had faced 70 incidents including “threats to kill and vehicles driven directly at staff”.

Three phone masts were damaged in South Shields as conspiracy theorists launched attacks on 5G networks. The O2 masts were targeted in June and July.

The MPs urged the Government to press ahead with plans to appoint an independent Online Harms Regulator and said Ofcom, the body that regulates TV and radio, should have the role.

Committee chair Julian Knight said: ““We are calling on the Government to name the Regulator now and get on with the ‘world-leading’ legislation on social media that we’ve long been promised.”

The report said: “The new regulator needs to ensure that research is carried out into the best way of mitigating harms and, in the case of misinformation, increasing the circulation and impact of authoritative fact-checks.

“It should also be able to support the development of new tools by independent researchers to tackle harms proactively and be given power to require that, where practical, those methods found to be effective are deployed across the industry in a consistent way.

“We call on the Government to bring forward proposals in response to this report, to give us the opportunity to engage with the research and regulatory communities and to scrutinise whether the proposals are adequate.”

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