New research: anonymous Twitter accounts fuelled the spread of Coronavirus 5G conspiracy theories
Updated: Jun 15, 2020
Clean up the Internet publishes a new report today detailing research which indicates that anonymous Twitter accounts played a disproportionate role in the spread of conspiracy theories blaming 5G for Coronavirus. This research shows that urgent action is needed to clamp down on the abuse of anonymity on social media platforms. The independent research, commissioned by Clean Up the Internet and conducted by Valent Projects, looked at 1 million Tweets from 285,000 UK accounts, collected between 1 March and 18 April 2020. It found that:
Conversations about Coronavirus and 5G attracted more anonymous accounts. Levels of anonymity were at least 48% higher compared to the equivalent conversation about the impact of Coronavirus on business.
Anonymous accounts drove the conversation about 5G and Coronavirus - they produced over five times the volume of tweets of attributed accounts, and were over four times (42% vs 9%) more likely to be actively promoting 5G conspiracy theories.
Anonymous accounts were tweeting far more of the most extreme conspiracy content such as themes from the "QAnon" conspiracy linked to violent attacks in the US
We’re calling on Social Media Companies to accept that abuse of anonymity is a problem, and to introduce changes to the design of their platforms to reduce the risks associated with anonymous accounts. If they won’t act, then we believe the government should use the opportunity of its upcoming Online Harms Bill to introduce regulations requiring them to act.
Our key recommendations for tackling abuse of anonymity on social media are:
1. Give user social media users the option to verify their identity Every social media user should be given the option of a robust, secure means of verifying that the identity they are using on social media is authentic. Users who wish to continue unverified should be free to continue to do so. 2. Give users the option to block interaction with unverified users Some users will be happy to hear from, and interact with, unverified users. Others will not. This should be a matter of individual user choice. Every verified social media user should be able to block communication, comments and other interaction from unverified users as a category. 3. Make it easy for everyone to see whether or not a user is verified
The verification status of an individual user should be clearly visible to all other users. Each user should be able to bring their own judgement as to what verification status might say about the credibility and reliability of another user's content.
The full report can be downloaded here.