5G conspiracy theories; what they are, why they are wrong and what can be done

While the majority of the general public might be immune to the absurdity of conspiracy theories linking 5G to COVID-19, there are enough believers to burn down infrastructure.

Jamie Davies

April 21, 2020

14 Min Read
5G conspiracy theories; what they are, why they are wrong and what can be done
5g Antenna Coronavirus Covid-19 3D image

While the majority of the general public might be immune to the absurdity of conspiracy theories linking 5G to COVID-19, there are enough believers to burn down infrastructure.

Here, we are having a look at the conspiracy theories, past and present, which have plagued the 5G era and attempted to provide some information to disprove the nonsense.

This is not a conclusive list of all the 5G conspiracy theories, so feel free to point out any we have missed in the comments section.

5G is a hazard to your health

This is a claim which has been bouncing around the industry for years prior to the 5G technology even being validated in lab trials. It dates back to the 90s, when mobile phone usage was incredibly limited, with critics claiming the 2G airwaves could in fact cause cancer.

Although the vast majority of the world now dismisses these rumours, the emergence of 5G seems to have encouraged the rebirth of these health claims. Finding an original source is very difficult, but there are plenty of posts which appear on social media which seem to fan the flames of these fanatics.

A picture of an engineer climbing a telecoms mast in a hazmat suit was used as justification for these claims, though it was clear the individual was using hazardous chemicals to clean the equipment. These illusions of proof help paint the picture, as the blind following the blind tend to ignore the thousands of images of healthy engineers installing or repairing telecoms equipment without such protective equipment on.

The idea that the airwaves used in mobile communications can be a detriment to your health is focused on the idea of ionising and non-ionising radiation. Telecoms equipment does emit radiation, but so does most electrical equipment. The point which seems to get lost is this Electromagnetic Radiation (EMR) is not powerful enough to cause damage to humans.

The following statement is taken from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website:

There are two general kinds of electromagnetic radiation: ionizing radiation and non-ionizing radiation. Ionizing radiation is powerful enough to knock electrons out of their orbit around an atom. This process is called ionization and can be damaging to a body’s cells. Non-ionizing radiation has enough energy to move atoms in a molecule around and cause them to vibrate, which makes the atom heat up, but not enough to remove the electrons from the atoms.

The damage which can be done to the human body generally depends on how far up the spectrum the airwaves being used are, or whether it is high- or low-energy. A high-tension power line can create a much higher energy electromagnetic field that is still low in frequency, therefore there are safeguards around these sites, while medical equipment using x-rays make use of much higher frequencies so should also be regarded as dangerous.

However, numerous public health authorities such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), the Germany-based scientific body in charge of setting limits on exposure to radiation, have both stated on numerous occasions the airwaves used by mobile communications is not harmful to health.

5G is the cause of COVID-19

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 video, which went viral and was reposted by several celebrities, has been disproven by several scientists who questioned the validity of the evidence. It has since been removed by YouTube.

“Viruses are not just debris,” Jason Kindrachuk, a virologist and Canada research chair in emerging viruses at the University of Manitoba, said in an interview with CBC. “Viruses don’t just get created as a way to deal with poison.”

Scientists have been able to recreate the virus in a lab, proving it is not simply a secretion from human cells, while there were numerous other claims in the Cowan video which did not add up. Cowan suggests the emergence of the Spanish Flu (1918) coincided with the launch of commercial radio services (1920), while he also claims the fact Wuhan is ground-zero for COVID-19 and the first city to have 5G (it wasn’t) was also proof of the link.

This is fantasy, and while Cowan might present himself as an expert, a deeper dive into his history presents a very murky character being investigated by the Medical Board of California for using unlicensed drugs, an author of books promoting ideas contrary to conventional medical procedures and a champion of the anti-vaccination movement.

5G can kill birds and plant life

This is a slightly unusual claim and appears to be more coincidence that anything else.

In the Hague during October 2018, the Netherlands, 297 birds were found dead which was attributed to the presence of 5G trials in the area. Similarly, in North Wales in December 2019, 225 birds were found dead. In both of these examples, it was decided 5G was the root cause of the deaths.

After examination in the Natural History Museum in Rotterdam and Wageningen University, it was determined the cause of death was some form of collision. Perhaps a bird of prey was present, causing confusion in the flock (which can swell to the size of thousands of birds) and subsequently mid-air collisions occurred.

In all honesty, there is no single reason for the mass death of these birds, however these incidents have been going on long before the introduction of 5G and even mobile communications. For example, residents of Beebe in the US state of Arkansas awoke on January 1, 2020, to 500 dead blackbirds strewn across lawns and roads, despite there not being a 5G antenna for hundreds of miles. Going back even further, it was reported in 1904 750,000 migrating Lapland Longspurs were found dead in Worthington, Minnesota.

What is worth noting is that 5G is not the root cause. The incidents have predated the introduction of mobile communications and autopsies on the dead birds recently have ruled out any connection between 5G, with some even pointing out trials were not taking place in the Hague when the starlings were found.

This is perhaps why conspiracy theories have persevered in certain areas. Without a single, proven cause of such phenomenon, the absurd claims will run wild. In a scientific void, some minds become susceptible to the fantastical.

Another wildlife claim is that 5G kills trees and other plant life.

After an image of felled trees in the Serbian town of Aleksinac was shared online, conspiracy theorists claimed the reason was to cover up the fact that the new 5G antenna would cause them to die eventually. By planting new trees, the Government would be able to cover up the damage which would have been done to the existing wildlife.

There is of course zero scientific evidence to suggest 5G impacts plant life, and an explanation for the Serbia incident has been sourced. According to Dalibor Markovic, a local politician, the aim was to rotten linden trees with new maple trees as part of reconstruction works on the street.

5G acts as an accelerator for the coronavirus

This is another which is linked to the current pandemic, and perhaps one of the conspiracy theories which has gained the most significant traction in recent days.

As with many conspiracy theories, it is very difficult to trace the pseudoscience back to its origin, and this claim is a perfect example. Pre-dating the coronavirus outbreak, the idea that 5G supresses the immune system is a popular one for critics and has been given a new life in conjunction with the spread of COVID-19.

The theory states that radiation from mobile communications is influencing the human body on a molecular level (suggesting it is ionising radiation), but also inhibiting the immune system. The spread of the coronavirus around the world is thanks to the presence of 5G technology and it preventing the body from fighting the virus.

As mentioned previously, and emphasised here by the Cornell Alliance for Science, there is no evidence linking 5G technology to the COVID-19 coronavirus. If a hotspot emerges in one area which happens to have 5G antenna, it is coincidental.

Unfortunately, people have been believing the conspiracy theory. A video from Hong Kong has been circulating social media, suggesting the masses are revolting against 5G, actually turns out to be from the protests which took place last summer, but this appears to be inspiration for the criminals who are vandalising telecoms masts in various places around the world.

What is worth noting is this is another example of why conspiracy theories work. In pursing an explanation, some individuals stop when one story seemingly answers all the questions. In not absorbing all of the information, these individuals are relying on incomplete data to make a conclusion.

For example, the conspiracy theorists are correct in suggesting both the coronavirus and 5G antenna are in places such as Wuhan (the origin of COVID-19), London and Paris, but fail to include Iran or Ecuador in their arguments. These are countries which have fallen victim to the pandemic, but do not have 5G connectivity.

Not only is there a lack of scientific evidence to support the conspiracy theory, when looking at all the data, the claim is baseless.

The lockdown is a government cover-up

This is an interesting one which even the most hardened of conspiracy theorists are unable to come to grips with; COVID-19 is a government conspiracy (although we’re not sure which one they are referring to) to enforce societal lockdown, which will allow the installation of 5G antenna en masse without the general public being aware. By doing it in secret, the general public will not be able to comment, object or protest until it is too late.

This one is truly remarkable.

Around the country there are of course councils who have been forced to abandon 5G plans due to objections from the community. For example, the Parish of Glastonbury prevented the deployment of 5G antenna for the Glastonbury Festival in 2019 thanks to opposition to the technology.

“To all those people who have paid a small fortune to go to Glastonbury, then you have effectively paid to be a human guinea pig,” said local conspiracy theorist Ian Crane. Conspiracy theorists believed the festival was being used as a scaled experiment for 5G, and while we suspect the council did not believe this story, there was enough of a protest to prevent it giving approval.

Some have suggested 5G is a military grade weapon, while other suggest the health consequences are well-known to governments, hence the need to roll it out during a lockdown. The Parish of Glastonbury is not the only local authority to oppose the deployment of 5G equipment, hence the fuel for this conspiracy theory.

The coronavirus is of course real, and lockdowns are a necessary inconvenience to prevent further transmission of COVID-19, though the presence of telecoms engineers on the streets is also crucial.

These individuals are not secretly installing 5G antenna, as some conspiracy theorists would have you believe, but are performing necessarily upgrades to improve the resilience and reliability of existing infrastructure. With internet traffic surging thanks to lockdown protocols, existing networks may come under strain as they were not designed with these scenarios in mind. It is not an exciting explanation, but it is a very logical one.

Virus’ can communicate through the radio airwaves

In 2011, several scientists authored a paper which suggested bacteria could produce electromagnetic signals to communicate with each other. Although the science in this paper is still disputed today, it has formed the foundation of the argument that the virus is able to communicate thanks to 5G.

Firstly, what is worth noting is that this paper has not been accepted by the academic community. Secondly, viruses are very different to the bacteria being discussed in this paper. And finally, COVID-19 is spreading in places where 5G is not present.

This is one of the more remarkable conspiracy theories present currently, but like every other one, the foundations of the story can be disproven or are not relatable.

Why do conspiracy theories spread?

According to The Conspiracy Theory Handbook, written by Stephan Lewandowsky of Bristol University and John Cook of George Mason University, there are several reasons why conspiracy theories can be believed.

  1. A feeling of powerlessness

  2. Coping with a threat

  3. Explaining unlikely events

  4. Disputing mainstream politics

People who feel powerless or vulnerable are more likely to believe and spread conspiracy theories, while they can act as a coping mechanism to explain highly unlikely events, or somewhere for blame to be directed when dealing with threatening situations. Sometimes people need someone to blame, dislike the ordinary or cannot accept the prospect of an unknown. In the absence of knowledge, the imagination prospers.

Lewandowsky and Cook detail the danger of conspiracy theories, but also the circular nature of the paranoid mind. If an aspect of the theory is disproven by evidence, this may well prove the existence of a greater conspiracy theory overarching the smaller tale. It is incredibly difficult to argue against the logic of an individual who is not open to absorbing all the relevant information or accepting that some conclusions might be incorrect.

The mind of a conspiracy theorist should be considered the same as a set of dominoes; if one is pushed, it impacts something else which leads to another scenario. You can’t knock over one theory without adding energy to another.

If you are suspicious a story might be an unvalidated conspiracy theory (though for many it doesn’t take much analysis), the Handbook suggests there might be several clues:

  • Contradiction: conspiracy theories often have contradictory claims when you dig into the details

  • Overriding suspicion: do you have to suspend belief in numerous other truths to make the narrative work

  • Nefarious intent: what is the end game or objective?

  • Something must be wrong: many conspiracy theorists have an ultimate belief that something is wrong with society

  • Persecuted victim: the conspiracy theorist is a hero for the people, fighting against the machine which is attempting to destroy the theorist

  • Immune to evidence: contrary science is claimed to be incorrect

  • Re-interpreting randomness: a belief that nothing happens by accident

In the majority of cases, a conspiracy theory can be spotted a mile away, but there are always a few which can seem plausible. And while it can be entertaining to ponder the extravagance of some, it is always worth remembering conspiracy theories are dangerous.

Conspiracy theories plant the seed of doubt, whether it is in science or authority. Today, society should be listening to scientists about the dangers of COVID-19 and how to best combat the pandemic, but there are still some who are wandering into fields and setting fire to the very communications infrastructure used by the emergency services. That could be the difference between life and death for someone’s aunt or grandfather.

What to do to combat conspiracy theories?

This is simple; education.

Some believe the conspiracy theories because they are that way inclined, but others will believe because it is the only explanation available at the time. Fictional detective Sherlock Holmes said; ‘when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth’, which is applicable here.

The telecoms industry has thrust 5G onto society without explaining what it is, why it is different, how it works or why the world needs it. Some might question why money is being spent on 5G when 4G works today, which is a very valid question in the absence of telcos actually explaining user and network trends.

Few consumers will actually know video is rapidly increasing network traffic, which will eventually strain networks and user experience, therefore 5G deployments are a proactive effort to get ahead of the curve. This is about ensuring experience is maintained irrelevant to the increasing tsunami of data which is building.

Perhaps there is an assumption that the consumer does not want to know? Like a car, as long as it does the required job, does anyone care about the intricacies of the engine? But mobile communications is different as it is penetrating into so many different aspects of our lives, including some very sensitive areas such as healthcare and finance.

There are two ways to debunk conspiracy theories; facts and logic. In the case of 5G, the science needs to be presented to demonstrate why these conspiracy theories are nonsense, but to ensure there is not a resurgence, the drivers for 5G need to also be explained. When the general public understand the objectives behind 5G are not nefarious, the conspiracy theories will seem as absurd to everyone as they do to industry insiders.

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