Study analyzing social media on the COVID-19 and 5G Conspiracy Theory

This study aimed to develop an understanding of the drivers of the 5G COVID-19 conspiracy theory and strategies to deal with such misinformation on social media


Do you want to deep dive into what Ahmed et al. found out analyzing Twitter data on this conspiracy theory?

Results:

How was the conspiracy spreading on Twitter?
A number of citizens who believed the conspiracy theory were actively tweeting and spreading it. Moreover, there was a dedicated Twitter account whose sole purpose was to spread the conspiracy theory. Finally, the authors also identified the « humor effect » (users mocking the conspiracy inadvertently drew more attention to it).

What online sources of information were people referring to?
A number of influential sources were creating content aiming to show a link between COVID-19 and 5G, such as the website InfoWars and the YouTube domain itself (people were creating content on YouTube to spread the conspiracy theory).

Did people actually believe the conspiracy?
34.8% of individual tweets contained views that 5G and COVID-19 were linked.

How could the spread of the conspiracy theory be mitigated?
The accounts set up to spread misinformation could have taken down by Twitter fasters, especially if users who made humorous tweets about it had, instead, reported the tweets promoting it. This would have been accomplished more easily if there was an authority figure with a sizeable following who tweeted messages against the conspiracy theory and urged users to deal with it responsibly.

Description of the study:

  • Title: COVID-19 and the 5G Conspiracy Theory: Social Network Analysis of Twitter Data
  • Principal investigator: Wasim Ahmed
  • Co-investigators: Josep Vidal-Alaball, Joseph Downing and Francesc López Seguí
  • Design: Social network analysis and content analysis of Twitter data from a 7-day period in which the #5GCoronavirus hashtag was trending on Twitter in the United Kingdom.
  • Methods: The data set used in this study consists of 6556 Twitter users whose tweets (a total of 10,140) contained the « 5Gcoronavirus » keyword or the #5Gcoronavirus hashtag, or were replied to or mentioned in these tweets from Friday, March 27, 2020, at 19:44 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) to Saturday, April 4, 2020, at 10:38 UTC. For a more complete description of the methods used, you may access the paper on the upper left of this page.

Objectives of the study:

  • Principal Objective: The aim of this study was to analyze the 5G and COVID-19 conspiracy theory. The specific research objectives were to answer the following questions:
    (1) Who is spreading this conspiracy theory on Twitter?
    (2) What online sources of information are people referring to?
    (3) Do people on Twitter really believe 5G and COVID-19 are linked?
    (4) What steps and actions can public health authorities take to mitigate the spread of this conspiracy theory? 

More about this study:

Conclusions: The combination of quick and targeted interventions oriented to delegitimize the sources of fake information is key to reducing their impact. Those users voicing their views against the conspiracy theory, link baiting, or sharing humorous tweets inadvertently raised the profile of the topic, suggesting that policymakers should insist in the efforts of isolating opinions that are based on fake news.

Added value: This study is the first to analyze the 5G conspiracy theory in the context of COVID-19 on Twitter, a social media platform, offering practical guidance to health authorities in how, in the context of a pandemic, rumours may be combated in the future.

Disclaimer: All of the information contained in this entry is reproduced almost exactly as it is written on the paper above. All rights are reserved to the owner of the paper.

Newcastle University participates in this Social media COVID-19 & 5G conspiracy study
The ICS participates in this Social media COVID-19 & 5G conspiracy study
IDIAP Jordi Gol participates in this Social media COVID-19 & 5G conspiracy study
LSE European Institute
TIC Salut Social of the Generalitat de Catalunya
Logo CRES