According to one body of research, those who took to the internet to shoot down the ‘5G spread the coronavirus’ conspiracy theory actually helped it gain traction.
One of the more nonsensical morsels that 2020 has served up is the theory that 5G technology was introduced (maybe by Bill Gates) solely to spread COVID-19. As a direct result, internet conspiracy theorists succumbed to irony in the United Kingdom, choosing to literally burn down the towers that supplied them with internet access. But while the cocktail of wireless technology and an international pandemic is a special brand of stupid, it continues to grow in popularity.
Pete Evans grabbed headlines with this assuredness over the existence of some sort of plot, explaining to 60 Minutes that he was “skeptical” and “also suspicious…because history has shown us that science has been bought by vested interests in so many different fields over the years.”
Now, while it’s easy to blame him and others who share his view, it seems that some of the blame should be attributed to those who believe the theory is absolute tosh. Back in January, the Journal of Medical Internet Research examined tweets that discussed the link between COVID-19 and the theory. While the journal surmised that the sheer number of tweets lifted the topic to Twitter’s trending bar, the kicker is that the number of tweets that expressed doubt over the theory outnumbered those who supported it. As the researchers put it, “when users joined the discussion to dispel, ridicule, or piggyback on the hashtag, the topic was raised to new heights and had increased visibility.”
“The 5G and COVID-19 conspiracy theory became a trending topic on Twitter, which we saw and this initially sparked our interest in the subject,” explained study author Wasim Ahmed.
However, this isn’t strictly confined to the realms of the internet, as back in May, ten people were arrested in Melbourne, demonstrating against “self-isolating, social distancing, tracking apps 5G being installed.”
We may chortle, but that story was carried by every major publication in the country, replete with a snarky, cynical undertone. These people were widely mocked, yet their message reached millions. Not bad for a crowd of 150.
With the concept of ‘hate-sharing’ vogue, it seems our online diet primarily consists of low-hanging fruit. For the unaware, hate-sharing is the act of sharing an article you wholly disagree with, in order to get your circle to drag the writer who wrote it. The practice, of course, leads to shares and engagement, thereby protecting the career of those we cannot stand and/or believe they should not be published.
However, Wasim Ahmed believes that the power to combat nonsense is a responsibility we all possess. He told PsyPost “that one of the best ways to fight COVID-19 misinformation on Twitter (or other social platforms) is to report the content rather than share and/or engage with it.”