May 7, 2021
Mobile UK submits evidence to DCMS Select Committee on Influencer Culture
At the height of the global pandemic in 2020 the mobile industry became a target for conspiracy theorists who sought to link the COVID-19 outbreak with 5G. On several occasions, celebrities and influencers, including Amir Khan (2.1m & 1.3m followers on Twitter and Instagram) and Letitia Wright (deleted account), chose to support or share stories that claimed to validate the false accusations about 5G, even when it is clear this is biologically impossible. We have even been told of one occasion where a mishap with the technology led to an inadvertent post about this topic (1.9m followers on Twitter).
In submitting its evidence to the DCMS Select Committee, Mobile UK warns that such endorsements, even when posted unknowingly provide credibility to claims that have no basis in science and ultimately stand to risk people’s lives and health. This was particularly pertinent when the nation was working towards a strategy to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic.
The false linkage between 5G and COVID-19, fuelled by retweeting and even endorsement, led to abuse and intimidation of field engineers and arson attacks on mobile infrastructure, even masts that were not 5G, at a time when people critically needed a mobile connection to stay in touch with family, work and the emergency services. (On one occasion, the connectivity provided to one of the Nightingale Hospitals was impacted by an attack on a mast, not to mention the wider mobile connectivity needs of the emergency services, such as the ambulance service.)
From April to August 2020, theindustry recorded 133 arson attacks on masts and mobile equipment and over 300incidences of abuse on telecoms staff and engineers, and these incidentspersist, even though it has been widely reported that it is not biologicallypossible for 5G to spread COVID-19.
As an industry, we have worked closely with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and its counter-misinformation team to highlight social media activity where misinformation is being spread or where it could have negative impacts on our infrastructure. There is still more work needed to ensure that misinformation cannot be so easily spread and to ensure that people who command massive audiences recognise their duty to act responsibly in disseminating information.
Where tech companies rely purely on algorithms, there must be more open channels for industry organisations such as Mobile UK to feed into when misinformation is detected. Equally, these channels must be quick to respond to stop the spread of misinformation which, as in the case of the arson attacks, was able to spread extremely rapidly.
About Building Mobile Britain
Building Mobile Britain is a campaign created by Mobile UK seeking to work with national and local government, as well as interested industry groups to overcome the challenges we face with expanding the existing mobile networks, while also developing innovative services for customers.
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Head of Policy and Communications
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