These are the basic facts of coronavirus but, as in any global crisis, conspiracy theorists have taken the opportunity to spread false information about its causes. Yet while conspiracy theories are typically the output of a marginalised few on Reddit and 4chan forums, some of coronavirus’s biggest misinformation peddlers are popular celebrities, willfully spreading dangerous myths that they are repeatedly told are simply untrue.
The range of celebrities pushing 5G conspiracy theories is astounding. From reality TV stars such as Calum Best to A-list Hollywood names such as Woody Harrelson, the theory has infiltrated every level and type of celebrity culture. Professional boxer Amir Khan yesterday went on Instagram to state that coronavirus was man-made and “put there… while they test 5G” and Dancing On Ice judge Jason Gardiner posted several tweets last week that encouraged followers to sign petitions halting the roll-out of 5G. The outrage particularly began to pick up on Thursday (2 April) as reports of people torching cell towers began circulating. The same day, Made In Chelsea star Lucy Watson tweeted “fuck 5G” and has yet to take down her post.
While these celebrities already have large audiences and reach, the media is partially to blame for amplifying their voices. In reporting on celebrities’ misinformation peddling in general – as well as the 5G conspiracy theory in particular – the media has repeatedly failed to make it clear that misinformation about 5G is just that: misinformation. In a thread of tweets on Sunday (5 April), a Twitter account reporting on the British media, @TheMediaTweets, shared a number of headlines and articles from sources such as Metro, the Mirror and even the BBC which reported on the 5G conspiracy without clarifying that it was unfounded.
“This ludicrous 5G coronavirus conspiracy, whether being spread maliciously, or by acts of celebrity stupidity, is clearly very dangerous if people are attacking mobile masts, and harassing telecoms engineers at a time when the country is relying more than ever on connectivity,” the @TheMediaTweets account posted. “[But] if reporting, media should be crystal clear this is dangerous nonsense at very first opportunity.” The thread pointed out how dangerous ambiguity can be and how it can further the spread of conspiracy theories. “[The] Metro article below has 12 paras of guff before it gets to ‘no evidence’,” it noted. “A neutral BBC headline almost bestows credibility.”