Anti-5G conspiracy theorists have started pushing misinformation that the drug hydroxychloroquine is a coronavirus cure on Facebook.
The public "Stop 5G U.K." group on Facebook began as an anti-5G community, but has evolved to become a nexus of conspiracy theories and scientific illiteracy.
Recent posts in the group recommend that COVID-19 patients take a dosage of hydroxychloroquine — dangerous armchair advice given the drug's efficacy in treating coronavirus is unproven.
There is no conclusive proof that any drug is effective in combating the coronavirus.
Facebook said it was removing posts that push misinformation about 5G and the coronavirus, including inaccurate claims about cures, but the posts remain live.
Conspiracy theorists pushing the false concept that 5G mobile signals are linked to the coronavirus outbreak are, on Facebook, increasingly now pushing the unproven drug hydroxychloroquine as a cure.
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One of the biggest Facebook groups promoting the 5G conspiracy theory has evolved to become a nexus of misinformation around the coronavirus.
The "Stop 5G U.K" group is a public group on Facebook with nearly 60,000 members. Anyone is currently able to join the group.
It has historically focused on the false claim that 5G radiation is harmful to humans, with its members protesting new mobile phone masts in their areas and posting dubious scientific claims about radio waves.
When Business Insider examined more recent posts from March and April, the group appears to have evolved from its anti-5G stance to peddling hydroxychloroquine as a cure for the coronavirus.
There is no robust evidence showing that hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug, is effective in combating the virus. Social media sites including Facebook and Twitter have said they will take down posts that make false claims about cures for the coronavirus.
In a post dated April 6, one commenter recommended COVID-19 patients take a cocktail of drugs, including "200mg hydroxychloroquine twice daily" for five days. Such armchair advice is dangerous — one American man who took chloroquine phosphate to guard against COVID-19 died.
Another commenter wrongly claims: "The drug Hydroxychloroquine has been identified by the government as a successful treatment for Covid-19."
The FDA in the US has issued an "emergency use authorization" for hydroxychloroquine, but only for COVID-19 patients in hospital who are unable to enroll in a clinical trial. It has not been granted full FDA approval as a treatment for COVID-19. The European Commission has also said there is no proof the drug is effective against the coronavirus.
Both posts remain visible in the Facebook group.
In spite of the lack of evidence, demand for hydroxychloroquine has spiked globally.
That's after French doctors experimented with combining hydroxychloroquine with another drug and found six patients with COVID-19 tested negative after six days on the treatment. This was, however, a small study that has not been widely replicated.
As documented by The Atlantic, "celebrity doctor" Mehmet Oz nonetheless appeared on Fox News to describe the findings as "very impressive."
President Trump, a notable fan of Fox News, mentioned the drug combination on a tweet sent March 21, stating it could "one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine" despite the lack of conclusive evidence.
Ben Nimmo, an expert in disinformation campaigns, told Business Insider that it was common for divergent conspiracy theories to meld together.
"One of the common factors that's been observed in online misinformation over the years is that communities which believe one conspiracy theory tend to be more ready to believe and share other ones," he told Business Insider in an email. "For example, users who post lots about the Illuminati or chemtrails have been one of the communities that also amplified Kremlin disinformation more frequently."
The conspiracy theory that 5G has a link to the coronavirus is so virulent that it has reportedly led to activists setting phone masts alight in the UK.
Facebook told Business Insider it is proactively removing misinformation around 5G and the coronavirus from its platforms, though the "Stop 5G UK" group remains active.
A spokesman said: "We are taking aggressive steps to stop misinformation and harmful content from spreading on our platforms and connect people to accurate information about Coronavirus.
"Under our existing policies against harmful misinformation, we are starting to remove false claims which link COVID-19 to 5G technology and could lead to physical harm. We will continue to work closely with governments and other tech companies to remove harmful misinformation and have partnered with health authorities like the WHO and NHS to connect people to the latest official guidance."