If you go looking for information on the internet around any buzzing or viral topic, chances are that misinformation will often surface to the top and spread quickly. With ongoing coronavirus pandemic, this appears to be evident more so than ever, despite a concerted campaign by governments and organisations across the world to put out authentic information. One unexpected victim to this campaign of misinformation regarding coronavirus has been 5G.
5G is the next generation of mobile networks, which promises much faster speeds and connectivity. So how can 5G be linked to the spread of coronavirus? Well, conspiracy theorists appear to have successfully peddled the idea that the next-gen of mobile networks are in some ways responsible for the disease.
In the United Kingdom, 5G phone masts have been damaged in Liverpool, Birmingham, and Belfast with police investigating possible arson. These acts of arson are taking place because conspiracy theories are linking 5G to the spread of the coronavirus. The UK has more than 50,000 cases of the COVID-19 infection with over 5000 deaths, and even Prime Minister Boris Johnson is currently battling the disease.
A video of a telecom tower on fire was also circulated on Facebook, though the social network later removed it. But some videos linking 5G to the coronavirus continue to remain on the platform. Just searching for 5G health risks or Anti-5G or Stop 5G on Facebook will give results about groups that espouse such claims. Some videos by such conspiracy theorists had close to half a million views and made absolutely false claims linking 5G to the spread of the virus.
So what is the claim? How can 5G be linked to the coronavirus?
First, it is important to understand that the opposition to 5G networks has been there before the coronavirus pandemic. There are plenty of anti-5G and stop 5G groups on platforms like Facebook. The opposition to 5G stems from the usual opposition to cell phone towers; the claim being that because 5G is more powerful it will cause more harmful radiation to humans, 5G towers will cause cancer and so on.
Some of the claims even state that satellites are being launched for 5G, which will emit even more powerful radiation onto the Earth. To be clear, 5G rollout does not need satellites.
Further, there is no evidence that cellphone towers cause any kind of harm to the human body. But with the coronavirus spread, new kinds of links are being made. Conspiracy theorists are arguing on Facebook and other platforms that since 5G’s radiation weakens the immune system, it is helping the spread of the coronavirus so quickly. But countries like India don’t have 5G, though there are now thousands of cases of the coronavirus.
Then, of course, there’s the Chinese link to 5G and coronavirus. With 5G technology, Chinese players like Huawei are the biggest investors. But given the coronavirus started in China, conspiracy theorists have claimed that in fact there is no virus and that the deaths and illnesses in China were caused by installation of 5G towers and networks.
What has made matters worse is that in some cases, celebrities have also gone ahead and posted these theories on their social media page. US singer Keri Hilson tweeted out the conspiracy theory angles to her 4.2 million followers, which claimed that once China’s 5G system went live on November 1, 2019, the deaths started, and that it had nothing to do with the virus. She later deleted the tweet claiming her management asked her to do so, but the idea itself has stuck. Hollywood actor Woody Harrelson also posted the conspiracy theories to his Instagram, though he too later deleted these from his page.
Are social media platforms removing such content?
YouTube is taking some action. When we searched for videos around coronavirus and conspiracy theories, YouTube’s top results were mostly videos debunking such claims, which is encouraging to see. YouTube has also told The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/05/youtube-to-suppress-content-spreading-coronavirus-5g-conspiracy-theory) it would be moving to spread the limit of such false videos, which linked the coronavirus to 5G.
The company said it has “clear policies that prohibit videos promoting medically unsubstantiated methods to prevent the coronavirus in place of seeking medical treatment,” and that it had already started “reducing recommendations” for “content such as conspiracy theories related to 5G and coronavirus, that could misinform users in harmful ways.”
On Facebook, finding such conspiracy content is very easy. All sorts of claims, comments are being put forth in such anti-5G groups. Some of the content is marked as ‘Partly False information’ but that doesn’t do much to deter the ‘believers’, who are anyway convinced that 5G is a problem.
So is there any link between 5G and coronavirus? If not, why are people believing this?
There is no scientific evidence to link 5G to the coronavirus or any other kind of disease. 5G will not weaken our immune system, nor does it cause cancer. In fact, one can draw parallels with this to the anti-vaccine movement, though that is considerably larger on social media platforms.
The new pandemic just presents an excellent opportunity to exploit this false claim even further, and going by the arson incidents in the UK this is no longer a laughing matter. These are unprecedented times, with so little known about the coronavirus and how it will continue to impact the world, hence for many these conspiracy theories are easier to accept, rather than the harsh truth.