New Delhi: The spread of misinformation in today’s hyperconnected Internet-driven times, has become as prevalent as salt in the sea, meaning, it is everywhere; figuratively on all sides of the aisle. Among the most significant pieces of misinformation which dodged the fact check mechanisms of our world of today heavily stressed out with the spread of Novel Coronavirus pandemic, is that 5G technology helps transmit the Coronavirus.
By early May, at least 20 mobile phone masts across the UK have been torched or vandalised within the period of close to eight weeks. Similar attacks on mobile towers have been reported from the US and across Europe, most of them being the 5G ones. A Belfast Telegraph report stated over 20 mobile towers have been destroyed in either way since the start of February in Ireland alone.
An online petition in Australia garnered over 27,000 signatures prompting the authorities to stop the functioning of 5G towers as it “negatively affect your immune system”.
It all started when a Brussels-based doctor in Belgium linked the “dangers” of 5G technology to the spread of COVID-19 during a newspaper interview in January. The comment was gradually picked up by the anti-5G campaigners whose conspiracy theories got a sense of veracity through the Belgian doctors’ claims.
What are COVID related anti-5G conspiracy theories?
Conspiracy theorists have been arguing on Facebook, YouTube and Reddit that since the radiation from 5G towers weaken the immune system, it makes the body susceptible to being fatally challenged with COVID infection.
Then, comes the Chinese connection which straight away deny the existence of any virus as such and links the COVID-type illnesses straight to the 5G radiations. These conspiracy theories suggest that since COVID-19 started in China, with companies such as HUAWEI leading the spread of 5G network in the country, there is in fact no virus as such and that the deaths and illnesses in China were caused by installation of 5G towers and networks.
What’s interesting remains the fact that how the presumably informed chunk of individuals bought these claims.
Pop Singer Kerry Hilson (of ‘Knock You Down’ fame) tweeted out the conspiracy theory, which claimed that since China’s 5G system went live on November 1, 2019, the deaths credited as COVID fatality count started, and that it had nothing to do with the virus. Hilson later deleted the tweet saying her management asked her to do so, but the anti-5G connotations in the most precautions times was housed into people’s heads.
Hollywood actor Woody Harrelson (of ‘The Edge of Seventeen’ fame) also posted the conspiracy theories to his Instagram, though he also later deleted them down.
Why 5G networks being COVID-like illness spreader is false?
According to a Science Alert report, the difference between 5G and previous generations of connections (2G, 3G, 4G) is that the latter use lower radio frequencies (in the 6 gigahertz range), whereas 5G uses frequencies in the 30–300 gigahertz range. This frequency of radiation is ‘undisputedly non-ionizing’, and completely incapable of direct DNA damage; implying there’s no harm to immunity due to 5G networks as such. To put this in perspective, even the lowest energy visible light (around 700nm) carries over 1400 times the energy of the most energetic 5G radiation wave.
What do the experts say?
The conspiracy theories have been branded “the worst kind of fake news” by UK’s (NHS) National Health Service England Medical Director Stephen Powis, as quoted by BBC.
According to Adam Finn, a professor of Paediatrics at University of Bristol, Viruses and electromagnetic waves are as different as chalk and cheese.
“The present epidemic is caused by a virus that is passed from one infected person to another. We know this is true. We even have the virus growing in our lab, obtained from a person with the illness. Viruses and electromagnetic waves that make mobile phones and internet connections work are different things. As different as chalk and cheese,” Professor Finn says to BBC.
World Health Organisation too has denied any links between COVID spread and 5G network towers. As per WHO, “Viruses cannot travel on radio waves/mobile networks.”
Controlling the transmission of conspiracy theories alongside COVID
The fake news dissemination like this has proven to be as dangerous as this pandemic itself. To stop it altogether, YouTube has removed dozens of videos related to this conspiracy theory. But even as of this minute, one can find such content easily available on Facebook. Earlier in the May, Twitter has started to show official government links in Europe and the USA which debunks the conspiracies around 5G and Coronavirus.
According to a Belfast Telegraph report, conspiracy theorist David Icke’s account, which received millions of views for peddling this 5G-COVID-spread theory has been removed from both Facebook and YouTube.
Risks associated with the COVID linked anti-5G campaign
5G cannot weaken our immune system, nor does it causes cancer. In the times when the world is relying on fast internet to work and study from home, vital telecommunications infrastructure is at risk of being destroyed due to such spread of misinformation. Addressing the myth is critically crucial and the robustness of fact check mechanisms is instrumental in preventing such a wider dissemination of unscientific conspiracy theories.