YouTube will now remove or limit visibility of content featuring conspiracy theories that link coronavirus to 5G, the fifth generation of wireless communications technologies supporting cellular data networks. The move comes after at least seven mobile towers were set on fire in the UK following the spread of the conspiracy theory online.

Although there are many fake theories about coronavirus making their rounds on social media, the most famous one claims that the spread of the virus in Wuhan is linked to the introduction of 5G network in the country. The theory further claims that the infrastructure of 5G being set up in other locations is increasing the spread.

According to these fake videos online, 5G “is sucking the oxygen out of human lungs”. These videos go to the extent of claiming that the network uses radio waves to find victims and suppresses their immune system. Where these theories fail though, is when you look at geographies such as Japan, where there has been massive spread but no 5G. 

Despite lacking scientific explanation whatsoever, these theories have led to attacks on phone masts in the UK. Phone masts in Birmingham, Merseyside and Belfast were set on fire, while broadband engineers faced physical and verbal threats from believers of the theory. “It beggars belief that some people should want to harm the very networks that are providing essential connectivity to the emergency services, NHS and the rest of the country during the lockdown period” said Vodafone UK’s Chief Executive Nick Jeffery. While two of the attacked masts were owned by Vodafone, two others were shared with O2.

A certain YouTube video featured a man falsely claiming to be a former executive of a UK cellular network stating that coronavirus tests were invented to spread the disease and hide the deaths that were actually caused by the network. While the video has now been taken down, variations of it are still visible online.

Youtube said that it will completely remove content that breaches its policies. However, controversial content about the 5G network that does not mention coronavirus is still allowed on the site. These videos according to the company will be categorised as “borderline content” and will be subjected to measures that limit its visibility. This includes suppression, loss of advertising revenue, and removal from search results on the platform. “We have also begun reducing recommendations of borderline content such as conspiracy theories related to 5G and coronavirus that could misinform users in harmful ways.”

Youtube says that these measures are expected to reduce the views on these videos by about 70%.