In April 2020, there are reports of more than 30 cases of vandalism against wireless towers and equipment in Britain. The rapid increase relates to online conspiracy theories linking the spread of COVID-19 to new 5G wireless technology. The conspiracy has gained ground due to widespread misinformation on social media. Theories insinuate that 5G radio frequencies weaken human immune systems to be more acceptable to the Coronavirus. Facebook groups against the rollout of 5G, celebrity endorsements of conspiracy theories, and a lack of knowledge on 5G technology are reasons for the increase in vandalism and misinformation.
MobileUK, the telecommunications corporation that hosts the U.K.’s four largest mobile companies, released an open letter to the public regarding the vandalism. The letter reads, “We have experienced cases of vandals setting fire to mobile masts, disrupting critical infrastructure and spreading false information suggesting a connection between 5G and the COVID-19 pandemic… There is no scientific evidence of any link between 5G and Coronavirus.” The vandalism against wireless towers comes during the introduction of the 5G wireless technology in the U.K.. However, many of the broadcast towers are not 5G equipped, leading to vandalizing of 4G and 3G towers. The International Commission on Non‐Ionizing Radiation Protection has found that 5G poses no harm to the immune system. In a statement evaluating 5G, the ICNIRP says, “has made several changes to ensure that new technologies such as 5G will not be able to cause harm, regardless of our current expectations.”
A lack of knowledge on what exactly is 5G facilitates public misconception. What makes 5G different from other wireless formats is that it uses higher radio frequencies than 4G. The rollout of 5G wireless towers overlaps with the COVID-19 pandemic, making many people believe the two are related. However, there is a difference between coincidence and relation. Within the range of 5G frequencies (30–300 gigahertz), there is not enough energy to break chemical bonds or alter electrons when in contact with a human. There is no relation between 5G technology and immune systems, and the wireless frequencies cannot penetrate a human body.
The timing of 5G implementation is purely coincidental in terms of the Coronavirus pandemic. It is essential to spread factual information on 5G technology and the mechanisms of COVID-19 to reduce conspiracy theory relevance. According to the CDC, “The virus that causes COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly from person to person, mainly through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.” Social media groups supporting misinformed pandemic theories need to be restricted to decrease attacks on critical infrastructure. Furthermore, governments and telecommunications companies need to make a more significant effort to educate the public on the safety of 5G.
Conspiracy theories on 5G gained relevance after a Belgian doctor linked the technology to the pandemic in January. Following the introduction of the conspiracy, Facebook groups supporting the theory began to track support. Celebrity endorsements of the conspiracy fueled public attention. A mixture of fear and confusion resulted in the perfect environment for fear-mongering conspiracy theories to find popularity. The movement especially found strength in misinformation regarding the rollout of 5G in China. Many anti-5G social media groups cite the introduction of 5G in China as directly leading to COVID-19 cases in Wuhan. However, this is not true. 5G technology was implemented in the U.K. 18 months before it was in China. The discolouration in the conspiracy timeline is evidence of misinformation strengthening support for these groups.
The Coronavirus puts a tremendous amount of pressure on critical infrastructure. The public is transitioning to working remotely through internet access. Attacks on wireless towers threaten to weaken internet access to civilians, which can affect a state’s workforce and economy. The spread of factual information on the safety of 5G technology through social media is essential. During a time of crisis, it is within normative human behaviour to search for a single source to blame. However, within the confines of the COVID-19 pandemic, the mechanisms of a virus are hard for the public to understand. Growing dissent against a state’s critical infrastructure will prove to add pressure to already tense domestic crises.