5G phone masts are set on fire in the UK after online conspiracy theories misleadingly linked cell towers to the coronavirus pandemic. the BBC reports at least three 5G towers have been set on fire in the past week, and police and firefighters have been called to put out the flames.
“I am absolutely outraged and disgusted that people are taking action against the infrastructure we need to deal with this emergency,” said Stephen Powis, director of the National Health Service (NHS), in a daily briefing on coronavirus in the UK. Police have now opened investigations into how the 5G towers caught fire.
Rumors and conspiracy theories concerning a link between the deployment of 5G and the spread of the coronavirus have mainly spread via social networks. There are a variety of groups on Facebook and Nextdoor, where thousands of members repeat false and misleading claims that 5G is supposed to be harmful.
One theory claims that the new coronavirus originated in Wuhan because the Chinese city recently deployed 5G. It is now expected to spread to other cities that also use 5G. These false conspiracy theories neglect to mention that a highly contagious virus would naturally spread more in densely populated cities with access to 5G, and that the coronavirus pandemic has hit countries like Iran and Japan where 5G n is not yet used.
There is no scientific evidence to link the coronavirus pandemic to 5G, nor any immediate negative health effects to 5G. Full Fact, an independent fact-finding agency in the United Kingdom, explored claims after a British tabloid newspaper recently highlighted them. 5G uses a higher radio wave frequency than 4G or 3G, but regulators in the UK registered levels of 5G electromagnetic radiation well below international guidelines.
This is the consequence of these Facebook bonkers conspiracy theories on 5G. Key workers are harassed on the street. pic.twitter.com/5z35r6sabp
– Charlie Haynes (@charliehtweets) April 2, 2020
This did not stop these conspiracy theories from spreading, however. Some people are even harass workers laying fiber optic cables for 5G installations, claiming that when 5G is turned on it will “kill everyone”.
Mobile networks are classified as a critical national infrastructure in the UK, but a Facebook group has been specifically created to encourage people to burn 5G towers. Peter Clarke, UK mobile network infrastructure expert, reported the group to Facebook but the company failed to remove it initially. After an increase in attention, the group has since been deleted, but many more are still available with false information and thousands of people encouraging others to burn 5G towers.
The British regulator Ofcom also warned Uckfield FM, a community radio station, this week for starring someone with “potentially harmful statements about the coronavirus.” A guest, identified as a “registered nurse,” appeared in a 20-minute segment in February, claiming that 5G draws oxygen from people’s lungs. The segment has also spread the lie that 5G and coronavirus are linked. Excerpts from the radio show have since been widely shared on Facebook.
5G causes coronavirus because it sucks oxygen from your lungs, according to a video posted on Facebook. I want to, but the fact that people believe this bullshit is really scary pic.twitter.com/kY3g5MJtu9
– Tom Warren (@tomwarren) March 3, 2020
Like many conspiracy theories and disinformation campaigns, Russia may well be at the heart of fears of 5G health. While a large number of Facebook groups have recently fueled these theories, a New york times report last year warned that Russian disinformation campaigns were actively exploiting fears of 5G health. RT America, a television network funded by the Russian government, released a report More than a year ago, an RT reporter claimed that 5G “could kill you.”
These are the types of absurd warnings that we are now starting to see on Facebook, and they are clearly convincing enough to cause some to damage vital national infrastructure. All of this is happening as the UK and many countries around the world are battling the coronavirus pandemic. While healthcare professionals are busy fighting a highly contagious virus, telecom and social media workers must fight an equally destructive viral spread of stupidity online.
Update, April 4 4:30 p.m. ET: Addition of a statement by the director of the British NHS.