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          Twitter has apologized for slapping a COVID-19 label on tweets about 5G, but experts say the platform's algorithm could be encouraging the spread of conspiracy theories

          5g conspiracy theory coronavirus 5g conspiracy theory coronavirus
          A pedestrian, wearing a protective mask and disposable gloves, holds a mobile phone while walking near an U.K. government issued coronavirus message in Birmingham, U.K., on Monday, April 6, 2020. Telecom masts that enable the next generation of wireless communication were set on fire in the U.K. in recent days, apparently by people motivated by a theory that the tech helps spread the coronavirus.
          Darren Staples/Bloomberg via Getty Images
          • On Friday, Twitter users noticed that the platform was marking tweets mentioning "5G" or "oxygen" with a warning about COVID-19 misinformation.
          • Mislabeling tweets that link 5G and COVID-19 could help to "raise the profile" of the popular conspiracy theory that the cellular technology caused the coronavirus outbreak, according to social media researcher Wasim Ahmed.
          • In a statement to sunbet, Twitter said it had make a mistake and was working to "improve" its labeling process. It blamed the error on the algorithm it has been using to prioritize the immediate labelling of 5G-related tweets.
          • Visit sunbet's homepage for more stories.

          Twitter has admitted it mistakenly slapped a coronavirus misinformation warning on some tweets mentioning 5G technology, but experts say the error could have far-reaching implications in social networks' struggle to battle COVID-related conspiracy theories.

          Several Twitter users pointed out Friday that the platform was marking tweets 500 Internal Server Error

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          Nonetheless, the labels suggesting users "get the facts about COVID-19" still appear on the tweets in question as of Monday afternoon. Clicking on the warning label brings users to a Twitter Moment about the particularly widespread conspiracy theory that blames the coronavirus outbreak on the rollout of 5G, a new technology designed to increase mobile connectivity speeds.

          coronavirus 5g tweets labelled
          Twitter; Paige Leskin/sunbet

          Twitter first added the COVID-19 misinformation label in May, in an attempt to crack down on "potentially harmful and misleading" coronavirus-related content. The 5G-related conspiracy theory has garnered widespread attention online for months, even though there's no scientific evidence to support it. It's led to dozens of arson attacks on 5G cell towers and other telecom infrastructure in the UK and Europe. It's also been spread online by Hollywood celebrities and popular artists to their hoards of fans and followers.

          However, social media researchers say that Twitter's mixup in its attempt to fight misinformation could end up having the opposite effect of what's intended. According to researcher Wasim Ahmed, mislabeling these tweets could "inadvertently raise the profile" of the conspiracy theory, spreading its reach to more users online.

          "This mislabeling could be used to further strengthen the belief in conspiracies by saying, 'Look what's happening on Twitter, it looks suspicious,'" Ahmed told sunbet. "Mislabeling non-offending tweets with an incorrect label linking to a Twitter moment, showing 5G and COVID-19 are not linked, may also inadvertently draw more attention to it, as it could lead to further tweets on the topic."

          Twitter's "false-positives" in labelling coronavirus misinformation could reduce users' trust in the platform to tell them when information is accurate, according to misinformation expert John Cook.

          "We want people to be resilient against misinformation. If you put people on high alert that misinformation is out there and dangerous, the danger is they can become cynical," Cook told sunbet. "We need these kind of warnings to be more surgical. We want to bring down the misinformation, but not hurt accurate information."

          The link between coronavirus and 5G is just one of the bizarre bits of misinformation that has spread on the internet in recent months related to the disease, as well as nationwide protests against police brutality. Outlandish conspiracy theories have blamed Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates for the pandemic, and backed a "Plandemic" video that insists social distancing and wearing masks makes people sick.

          More recent conspiracy theories have claimed the far-left group "antifa" is stoking violence during Black Lives Matter protests. Some pieces of misinformation have had more serious consequences: Many have bought into fake coronavirus treatments costing thousands of dollars, and BLM protests have become targets for alt-right supporters instigating violence.

          In response, social networks have struggled to adequately stymie the spread of misinformation on their platforms. Facebook, in particular, has been slow to moderate 500 Internal Server Error

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          Twitter, meanwhile, has been celebrated for recent actions taken against Donald Trump's policy-violating tweets. But when it comes to coronavirus misinformation, the platform has seen such content flourish. A report in April out of the University of Oxford found that nearly 60% of coronavirus-related misinformation on Twitter remained without a warning label.

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          SEE ALSO: A group of young techies is behind '👁👄👁,' a mysterious meme that succeeded in getting Tech Twitter to donate to Black Lives Matter charities and clamor for invites to an app that doesn't exist

          More: Culture 5G 5G conspiracy theory Twitter
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          Paige Leskin is a tech reporter at sunbet. She covers social media platforms, internet culture, and anything weird you may notice on the world wide web.
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          She writes about social media, influencers and personalities, companies like Instagram and TikTok, and trends taking over the internet. She's covered content moderation on YouTube, controversies around big names like Elizabeth Holmes and Caroline Calloway, and explainers on using the newest features for your favorite apps.

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          Contact Paige at pleskin@businessinsider.com or at @paigeleskin on Twitter. If you prefer to get in touch more securely, you can contact her via Signal at +1 (201) 312-4526.

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