- BRITAIN’S most read tabloid The Sun has been criticised for publishing conspiracy theories over links between Covid-19 and 5G mobile masts
- THE Rupert Murdoch-owner newspaper allowed unmoderated comments online beneath an article that perpetuated falsehoods about the technology
- NOW it has been cited to a Parliamentary inquiry into ‘Online Harms and Disinformation’
By Graham Johnson
Editor, Byline Investigates
THE SUN newspaper has been accused of carelessly perpetuating dangerous conspiracy theories around 5G and its false links to the COVID-19 pandemic which could have led to telecommunications masts being attacked and lives being put at risk.
The Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid published a report about masts around the country which included maps of 5G coverage across the UK – at the same time as violent anti-5G activists and arsonists were targeting 5G towers.
The risk of 5G masts being attacked after these comments were published was especially acute, critics have claimed, because the maps featuring in the article itself may have made it possible for would-be attackers to identify where equipment that will transmit so-called ‘fifth-generation’ telecommunications and provide vital high-speed mobile telephone services to the country are based.
Critics accused The Sun of acting negligently by allowing conspiracy theorists to spread dangerous “disinformation” regarding 5G in comments under the story, seemingly unmoderated and left there for weeks, perpetuating falsehoods surrounding 5G’s links to coronavirus.
Indeed, in the days after the article was published online tens more of the structures came under attack.
In its published response to a parliamentary inquiry into ‘Online Harms and Disinformation’, the press reform group Hacked Off criticised The Sun for not taking action over the comment posts, particularly given its large readership.
A spokesperson said: “Readers will be interested in how and where they will be able to access 5G technology. It is not wrong for newspapers to cover this.
“But in the context of a global pandemic during which a conspiracy theory has been widely spread that 5G is linked to the virus, publication of such an article must be handled with care.
“Instead, not only did the article effectively allow readers a way to approximately locate where masts had been erected, in the knowledge that 20 attacks had already been reported around the UK, but comments alleging that this technology was unsafe were published and left accessible to The Sun’s millions of online readers for two weeks, and counting.
“This is a further example, not of COVID-19 coverage but on a related issue, where user-generated content appearing on a newspaper’s social media platform has included clear, uncorrected disinformation.
“On this occasion, that disinformation could very well have put 5G equipment – and lives – at risk.”
The story is particularly embarrassing for The Sun as the newspaper have been vocally critical of celebrities for repeating fake news about 5G, and of Facebook for failing to take action to remove fake news from their platform.
5G is the next generation of mobile broadband, which will offer faster speeds than 4G or 3G, and is currently being rolled out around the world, including in the UK.
A bizarre and baseless school of thought claims 5G is more powerful than 4G and is therefore dangerous to humans and animals.
Some go further and falsely suggest 5G can cause cancer and is behind the global COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 200,000 and infected three million.
There is no evidence that this is the case, but the claims have found a foothold in the UK and are being peddled by conspiracy theorists and influential celebrities – including renowned rapper Wiz Khalifa, Hollywood actor Woody Harrelson and champion boxer Amir Khan – on social media. As a result, dozens of 5G masks have been attacked, and a number set on fire.
Reports first started emerging that 5G phone masts had been targeted around the UK on April 4.
On April 6, The Sun – which has a monthly reach of 37 million in print and online – published an article on its website headlined, ‘Is 5G in your area? Mast maps reveal if you can upgrade to ultra-fast mobile internet’.
The story included maps showing 5G coverage across the country, making it possible from viewing the map to get an approximate idea of where masts are located.
The Sun has since reported that 53 masts have now been the subject of attacks in total, while quoting a spokesman for EE who warned conspiracy theorists pose a “risk to human life” by burning down phone masts.
The right-wing tabloid has also faced criticism for allowing rampant falsehoods surrounding 5G’s links to COVID-19 and other illnesses to be published in comment sections under the story, which appear to have gone up unmoderated weeks ago and remained there at the time this story was published (APRIL 30).
One comment, which alleged 5G was unsafe and featured unsubstantiated claims that the theory was backed by thousands of experts, soon appeared under the article.
One, on April 6, read: “Massively concerned and terrified for my grandchildrens (sic) future. 26,000 scientists have objected to this and I have not consented to being exposed to this dangerous level of radiation. This will seriously damage peoples (sic) health and all life on earth. BAN 5g.”
Another, posted a day later, peddled libellous allegations about Microsoft owner and philanthropist Bill Gates.
A third comment, also published on April 8, cited spurious science and made false claims attributed to former Prime Minister David Cameron regarding 5G’s safety.
It said: “Some people are suggesting a link between disease and radiation in that the vibrations induced in the body’s cells allows entry of viruses.
“A microwave oven works by oscillating water molecules at 2.4ish GHz – the same as WIFI – you couldn’t make it up! (I think wifi also uses 5GHz).
“Recall how Cameron – now living the nice country life – said we should accept that many (50%?) of people would get cancer.”
Another comment, made on April 9, read: “Judging by the poll the vast majority of people DO NOT want this. nobody has been consulted. This surely isn’t legal.
“The people dont (sic) consent. The studies prove it’s highly dangerous so why is this being forced upon us. ask why?”
All of these reader comments remain accessible under the article, despite it being published 23 days ago, as of the date this story was published (APRIL 30).