The emergence of coronavirus in Wuhan city, Hubei Province, China on December 8, 2019, shocked the whole world with scientists and researchers attempting to find answers to the pneumonia-like disease that would later be declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization, WHO. As authorities battled with the need to contain the virus and broadcast the necessary precautions citizens could take to ensure the coronavirus does not get to spread into the communities, another challenge worse than the virus itself occurred. The problem of conspiracy theories, fake news, and infodemic around the pandemic which included 5G COVID-19 conspiracies.
One was that of the mobile technology development, 5G, in which it was alleged that Covid-19 was either caused by the frequencies used for the new wireless technology, or its signals impaired the human immune system hence was not resistant to the diseases that came about. This conspiracy theory spread so fast on social media especially on Facebook and Twitter and was so serious that it led to the burning of the 5G towers in the United Kingdom. Almost 60 telecom masts were set ablaze in the region with other countries experiencing the same. Citizens in various countries like Ireland also staged protests against the telecoms operators in the country. Though it is not the first time mobile networks are blamed for health problems such as cancer, infertility, and such, the 5G-COVID conspiracy was a big disinformation challenge to the fight against the pandemic.
Swedish data company, Earhart Business Protection Agency, tracked the fake news around the coronavirus and reported that the 5G conspiracy first emerged online in form of a lecture video directly linking coronavirus to 5G in early January. Immediately after that, other videos began to emerge linking deaths of birds, fish, and people fainting to the 5G development. There were different versions of the conspiracies around the network and the health pandemic. We discuss three of them below:
- 5G rollout in Wuhan, China.
The version that seemed to have won the attention of users was that it was no coincidence that coronavirus begun in Wuhan city as 5G technology had been rolled out in the place with a number of masts installed in its locations. Wuhan was one of the first places with 5G trials in China with other several major cities like Guangzhou, Beijing, and Shanghai. In October 2019, China’s three state telecoms companies, China Mobile, China Telecom, and China Unicom announced they would be rolling out phone services that use 5G to allow its users nationwide to use the ultra-fast mobile internet service. It said that there were plans to install over 50,000 – 5G base stations across 50 Chinese cities in the country by the end of that year.
2. COVID-19 lockdown is deliberate strategy to install 5G antennas
Another conspiracy theory that emerged was that the lockdowns enforced by the health authorities were deliberate strategies to cover up the installation of 5G antennas around the countries. Spreaders of this theory argued that the governments especially in Europe were doing this secretly in order to keep the general public from commenting, questioning, or protesting until it is too late. Some even suggested that 5G was a military-grade weapon that the government wanted to cover up. Popular celebrities were also spreading this theory, for example, Keri Hilson made series of tweets claiming Africa had so far seen relatively few COVID-19 cases because it was not a priority region for the global 5G rollout. The most widely shared articles about the singer’s comment in Kenya had been posted by digital news broadcaster, Tuko. Then there was a YouTube video claiming that the lockdown in the US was a planned thing to allow the installation of 5G masts on school buildings across the country while teachers, parents, and pupils are away. It was first shared on 17 March and eventually reached some 531 spaces and groups with more than 8 million followers.
3. 5G impairs immunes system hence accelerates coronavirus
Another theory emerged that the 5G networks impair the immune system of a human being. It stated that radiation from mobile communications was inhibiting the mechanism under which the human body would fight the virus hence the reason why COVID-19 was spreading like wildfire. In March, Dr. Thomas Cowan, a US doctor on disciplinary probation, claimed 5G poisoned cells in the body forcing them to excrete waste which eventually became known as COVID-19.
The truth however is that 5G doesn’t cause COVID-19. The WHO and other health authorities have come out to debunk these conspiracies saying that the virus does not spread through radio waves and that the 5G waves are non-ionizing, meaning they don’t damage the DNA inside cells, as X-rays, gamma rays, and UV rays are able to do. 5G is only slightly higher frequencies than the previous network 4G but still part of the same electromagnetic spectrum just that it operates in a radically different way to previous upgrades to mobile infrastructure.
2G supported the mainstreaming of SMS communication, 3G allowed powerful mobile devices to become a reality while 4G supported streaming media on mobiles and real-time locative technology like Google Maps. Same way 5G will help improve the consumer experience through faster speeds and lower latency. Its wireless networks are capable of carrying up to 1000 times the traffic of existing services. In order to accommodate this greater demand, 5G draws on expanded spectrum allocation, utilizing higher frequency signals that are relayed via hundreds of small cell network receivers or mini base stations.
I think the only problem that supported the spread of these theories is that telecoms industry operators have not clearly explained why the world needs it when the 4G is already working well for them. Telecoms.com has explained this saying that the data is rapidly increasing on the network traffic, which will eventually strain networks and user experience; therefore 5G deployments are a proactive effort to get ahead of the curve to facilitate the data which is already building.