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YouTube bans videos falsely claiming 5G causes COVID-19

Just a day earlier, the video service had stopped short of banning videos promoting the conspiracy theory.

Angela Lang/CNET
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO and CDC websites.

YouTube has banned videos that falsely claim 5G next-generation mobile networks cause the symptoms of COVID-19, the respiratory illness actually caused by the new coronavirus, Google's massive video service said Tuesday. That's a lightning-quick change from its policy less than a day earlier, when it considered such videos to be "borderline." Borderline videos aren't necessarily removed but instead throttled by YouTube by reducing how much the service recommends them to be watched.

The conspiracy, which has spread on social platforms like YouTube and Facebook, led to possible arson attacks against UK phone towers.

"Now any content that disputes the existence or transmission of COVID-19, as described by the WHO and local health authorities, is in violation of YouTube policies. This includes conspiracy theories which claim that the symptoms are caused by 5G," YouTube said in a statement Tuesday. YouTube, which has more than 2 billion monthly users, added that it will continue to reduce recommendations for borderline content that could misinform viewers in other harmful ways.

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"We'll continue to evaluate the impact of these videos on communities around the world and look forward to maintaining our work with governments and health institutions to keep the public safe and informed during this difficult time," the company said.

As the coronavirus and COVID-19 have proliferated across the globe, so too has misinformation about them. But 5G networks use radio waves to transmit data; the new coronavirus, officially named SARS-CoV-2, has nothing to do with radio waves or 5G. And SARS-CoV-2 is the only cause of COVID-19.

But the false theory has caught the interest of anti-5G groups and others. The UK's national medical director has called the 5G conspiracy theory "complete and utter rubbish," and UK carriers have outright asked people to stop burning towers, attacks that could undermine connectivity just as people need it more than usual.