Facepalm: The internet is awash with conspiracy theories, one of which claims that 5G cell towers caused the Covid-19 outbreak. While most people would just laugh this off, it's gaining traction online and has been endorsed by some celebrities. In the UK, the claims have led to 5G masts being set on fire.

False claims that the next-generation networks are in some way responsible for the global pandemic have been spreading on social media for months now. They claim that Covid-19 began in Wuhan because the city started rolling out 5G and spread to other cities using the technology.

A slew of YouTube videos, Change.org petitions, and promotion by celebrities, including Woody Harrelson, have fanned the flames. In the UK, at least seven cellular towers, one of which wasn't even a 5G mast, were set alight last week. The attacks are being investigated as arson, and are likely linked to the 5G-coronavirus theory.

"We have received several reports of criminal damage to phone masts and abuse of telecoms engineers apparently inspired by crackpot conspiracy theories circulating online," said a spokeswoman for the UK's Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

The claims that there could be a relationship between 5G and Covid-19 are, of course, false. Allegations that 5G can suppress the immune system or transmit the virus have been called biologically impossible by scientists, but a lot of people are easily convinced by slick YouTube videos.

The BBC reports that the UK's culture secretary has ordered social media companies to clamp down on the 5G conspiracy theories and plans to hold meetings with representatives from the firms this week. Facebook has already said it's removed groups encouraging attacks on 5G masts, and YouTube, which has long been accused of being soft on conspiracy videos, says it has reduced recommendations of "borderline content such as conspiracy theories related to 5G and coronavirus, that could misinform users in harmful ways."