Please, for the love of god, do not tear down mobile phone towers. They are not making you sick. At a time when the world needs to unite to defeat the coronavirus, a few people seem hell-bent on doing otherwise.
Conspiracy theorists have been ranting about 5G for a long time now. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, they’ve done the mental gymnastics to somehow link the two in order to keep their misinformation topical. The result is quite dangerous.
Their theory rests on two pillars: that the coronavirus epicenters are places with 5G networks, and that 5G radio waves are at a higher frequency than previous phone networks. It’s not clear how these prove any link between the two things, other than somehow, mysteriously, 5G is responsible for the virus.
While many who perpetuate the myth think they’re exposing a huge coverup, they’re actually just causing unnecessary panic. Tim Minchin put it best: “You’re not a maverick. You’re just arrogant & didn’t listen in school.”
SO ANGRY about this dumbass 5G + Covid conspiracy theory. You‘re perfectly within your rights to be scientifically illiterate & gullible as a ham. But STOP PASSING SHIT AROUND. YOU DON’T HAVE SPECIAL INSIGHT. YOU’RE NOT A MAVERICK. YOU‘RE JUST ARROGANT & DIDN’T LISTEN IN SCHOOL.
— Tim Minchin (@timminchin) April 5, 2020
What exactly is 5G?
5G is the latest generation of mobile network technology, just like how 4G came after 3G. The benefits are faster speeds thanks to shorter wavelengths than previous technology. Most new smartphones are 5G capable.
While the waves are at a higher frequency than previous networks, they’re still non-ionising which means they don’t damage DNA like X-rays, gamma rays and UV rays do. There is also no evidence for any other supposed health effects such as immune suppression, either.
The shorter wavelength means the signals have a shorter range, and they also have trouble travelling through buildings. In cities, this means far more mobile phone towers need to be built in order for 5G coverage to supersede 4G coverage.
How does 5G relate to the coronavirus pandemic?
It doesn’t, but some people argue otherwise.
One claim in particular is being used by 5G truthers to hook new converts to the conspiracy theory. They claim Wuhan, the original epicenter of the pandemic, is the world’s first ‘5G smart city’.
This phrase alone should be enough to dismiss the theory. It’s a claim impossible to prove or deny because it’s just to damn vague. ‘Smart city’ is an advertising buzzword with no real meaning. While Wuhan was among a handful of cities to trial the technology last year, it has since become commonplace, including in Australia.
Proponents of the theory also point to bogus research on the supposed effects of 5G networks. This research is incoherent and not peer-reviewed. It links a bunch of desperate claims, themselves unreliable, with no real evidence. Because the 5G movement has been around since long before the coronavirus pandemic, conspiracy theorists have a huge stash of made-up research to draw from.
Some people are spreading maps overlaying 5G towers with large virus clusters. What they fail to realise is that you could overlay any almost any datasets on a map and they would still highlight large cities. The coronavirus spreads quickly in dense urban areas. These same cities are also an early market for 5G technology, thanks to their large population. You could overlay pigeons with post offices and notice a similar correlation.
There is something fucking brutally ironic about 5G antenna array using sacred geometry to maximize efficiency pic.twitter.com/Kbywhxvx7L
— 禅 HUMAN EMΘTIΘNS @ ASIA CLUB EXCELLENCE 💹 (@YOJIMBO_KING) March 30, 2020
Who is behind the conspiracy?
In a lecture uploaded to YouTube, a so-called Dr Thomas Cowan, who has no clear medical qualifications, claims there were so few confirmed coronavirus cases in Africa because of a lack of 5G infrastructure on the continent. This is of course a correlation without any proven causation, and willfully ignores many factors including including the way people move around the world and they way virus outbreaks are reported in different countries.
Cowan, for his part, is a rabid anti-vaxxer and has strong opinions about bogus cancer treatments too. It’s unclear whether he actually studied medicine or, if like Doc Antle from Tiger King, he’s just bestowed the title upon himself. His main claim to fame is being a former president of the Physicians’ Association for Anthroposophic Medicine, a fringe organisation promoting alternative medicine that has absolutely no standing in the scientific community.
From here, the theory spread and mutated across social media. Some versions of the theory claim there is no such things as the coronavirus, and we’re all sick from 5G radiation instead. Others claim governments around the world are using 5G networks to inflict the coronavirus upon their citizens.
Even celebs have begun spreading the dangerous misinformation at a time when a wrong decisions could cost lives. M.I.A. tweeted, “Last pandemic came with radio waves. Now 5G.” Meanwhlie, Zombieland actor Woody Harrelson also posted a video on Instagram perpetuating the conspiracy theory. In Australia, Anthony Mundine told his Facebook fans 5G was deployed to cause the coronavirus and establish a “new world order”.
Most social networks have pledged to remove content blaming the coronavirus pandemic on 5G networks, however these posts remain online.
Is it just a harmless myth?
Anything kind of misinformation during global pandemic can have serious consequences. At a time when people need to come together, getting distracted by bullshit myths is a huge distraction, and we’re already starting to see the damage.
In the UK, multiple mobile phone towers have been destroyed by mobs as people blame them for the pandemic. We’re currently more reliant on mobile networks than ever, and thanks to social distancing, maintenance is harder than usual. Tearing these towers down creates the perfect storm.
“Not only are these claims baseless, they are harmful for the people and businesses that rely on the continuity of our services,” said a joint statement from the UK’s four largest mobile network operators: EE, o2, Three, and Vodafone.
“They have also led to the abuse of our engineers and, in some cases, prevented essential network maintenance taking place.”
@yungstupidbiitchThe conspiracy theories are freaking me out ???? ##differentpeople ##5g ##uk ##ireland ##ni ##coronavirus ##foryou ##fyp what do you guys think?♬ Sunday A day of rest – awesomedude281
The CEO of the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association, Chris Althaus, agrees.
“These false claims are the worst kind of fake-news misinformation and are both irresponsible and completely unacceptable during a genuine health crisis,” he said in a statement.
Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy has also stressed that 5G technology is safe. “There is no evidence telecommunication technologies, such as 5G, cause adverse health impacts,” he said.
As people are losing their jobs and the healthcare system is under immense strain, people seem to be misdirecting their frustration towards those whose job it is to keep us online.
Now is not the time for conspiracy theories.