In brief

  • At least 20 5G towers and masts have been vandalized in the UK.
  • The spread of misinformation linking 5G to the coronavirus outbreak likely contributed.
  • Blockchain-based solutions can help verify that a news article came from a legitimate source.

At least 20 5G cell towers and masts in the United Kingdom have been attacked in the last week in the UK as a result of online misinformation and coronavirus conspiracy theories.

According to The Guardian’s report, the 5G cell towers—mostly around Liverpool and the West Midlands—were set on fire or otherwise damaged. Worse, false claims that the pandemic is somehow connected to the roll-out of the new telephone standard endangered staff working at the telecom companies.

“Not only are these claims baseless, they are harmful for the people and businesses that rely on the continuity of our services,” said a joint statement from mobile carriers EE, o2, Three and Vodafone. “They have also led to the abuse of our engineers and, in some cases, prevented essential network maintenance taking place.”

How the 5G coronavirus conspiracy theory could have been stopped
Amanda Holden accidentally tweeted an anti-5G petition. Image: Twitter

At the same time, local government officials and industry representatives are voicing their concerns about numerous conspiracy theories—linking the spread of the coronavirus to 5G networks—being endorsed by several UK celebrities such as Amanda Holden on social networks. She later claimed the tweet was made by accident.

How misinformation can be stopped

While not exclusive to the coronavirus situation, misinformation is becoming increasingly prevalent in our day and age. Platforms, including Twitter and WhatsApp, have already introduced features designed to stop the flow of coronavirus-themed misinformation. But some publishers are going even further.

Italian news wire service ANSA, which comprises 24 newspaper publishers as members and shareholders, has partnered with Ernst & Young (EY) Advisory, the consulting arm of international professional services firm EY. Together they have built a blockchain solution called ANSAcheck.

Using ANSAcheck, readers will be able to trace the origin of articles published on ANSA’s platforms, including affiliated publications and even third-party posts on social media.

Regarding the 5G coronavirus conspiracy theory, it could have been used to ensure that any posts shared were from reputable sources.

ANSAcheck works by recording a “digital fingerprint” for every article that is being filed. After publication on the website or other platforms, the blockchain will compare the text to the original hash. If the data matches, the published article will get an ANSAcheck digital sticker that proves its validity.

ANSAcheck uses the Ethereum-based EY OpsChain Traceability solution. Thanks to this, users will also be able to see the full history of the news and its primary source. Additionally, it will help ANSA to track how its articles are being used and whether the information is being misrepresented.

“In recent days, we witnessed the frequent fraudulent use of our brand to give truth to false news,” said Stefano de Alessandri, CEO of ANSA. “Starting today, we can track the origin of the news and—at the same time—support the professionalism of our journalists. This is an important step in the fight against fake news.”

As Decrypt reported on March 11, market predictions startup Numerai has also launched a new marketplace for information designed to combat fake news—Erasure Bay. The firm thinks it will produce more accurate information—or allow you to literally destroy the information seller’s money.

Perhaps hitting malicious actors right in their wallets could make them think twice before spamming misinformation.