Minister calls 5G coronavirus conspiracy ‘dangerous nonsense’ as towers burnt

Minister calls 5G coronavirus conspiracy ‘dangerous nonsense’ as towers burnt
Ryan is a senior editor at TechForge Media with over a decade of experience covering the latest technology and interviewing leading industry figures. He can often be sighted at tech conferences with a strong coffee in one hand and a laptop in the other. If it's geeky, he’s probably into it. Find him on Twitter: @Gadget_Ry

British cabinet minister Michael Gove has called 5G coronavirus conspiracy stories “dangerous nonsense” as vandals burn down mobile towers.

You’ve probably seen the claims by now. Only this morning, within minutes of opening Facebook, I scrolled upon the following mind-numbing post:

It seems lost on the creator that 3G and 4G networks are pretty much everywhere now, yet cases of SARS and Swine Flu are thankfully almost unheard of. Frequencies much higher than what’s used even for 5G networks – like UV and X-Rays – can cause DNA damage, but certainly not viruses.

During the rollouts of 3G and 4G, many will remember seeing a few similar claims here and there. The rapid proliferation of the unsubstantiated claim around 5G causing COVID-19 is partly due to celebrity endorsements from the likes of Woody Harrelson and Amanda Holden. While many conspiracy theories are relatively harmless; this one is putting lives at stake.

“Not only are these claims baseless, they are harmful for the people and businesses that rely on the continuity of our services,” says EE, O2, Three, and Vodafone in a joint statement. “They have also led to the abuse of our engineers and, in some cases, prevented essential network maintenance taking place.”

People are burning down mobile towers over the claims, posting the videos online, and even creating “scoreboards” between cities. More than ever, people need mobile communications to keep in touch with loved ones, feel less isolated, and contact the emergency services if needed.

Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director of the NHS, said: “The 5G story is complete and utter rubbish. It’s nonsense, it’s the worst kind of fake news. The reality is that the mobile phone networks are absolutely critical to all of us particularly in a time when we are asking people to stay at home and not to see relatives and friends.”

“In particular, those are also the phone networks that are used by our emergency services and our health workers. I’m absolutely outraged, absolutely disgusted, that people would be taking action against the very infrastructure that we need to respond to this health emergency.”

Those peddling such conspiracies have little time for scientific evidence, especially from government agencies, but the rest of us can find the results of Ofcom’s investigation into 5G radiation levels here.

“In all cases, the measured EMF levels from 5G-enabled mobile phone base stations are at small fractions of the levels identified in the ICNIRP Guidelines (the highest level being approximately 1.5% of the relevant level),” is the main summary of Ofcom’s investigation.

Last week, Ofcom began warning media publications that they would face sanctions if they were found to be supporting the 5G conspiracy claims. The British government, along with the EU, have opened consultations with the major social networks to encourage them to act against such content on their platforms.

I scrolled across a video of someone filming the burning of a mobile tower last week. After reporting it to Facebook, I received the following response displaying – in my personal opinion – a complete lack of responsibility:

YouTube is taking a more comprehensive approach and says that it will remove any videos falsely linking COVID-19 to 5G networks.

In a statement, mobile industry body the GSMA, wrote:

“Our vision at the GSMA is to unlock the power of connectivity so that people, industry and society thrive. We must unite in the global fight against COVID-19 and combat the fake news and violent actions linking 5G communications technology to the spread of the virus. This disinformation campaign is inciting fear, aggression, and vandalism against the critical infrastructure and essential maintenance workers who are keeping our public services connected, as well as our economy running.

The GSMA calls on internet giants, content providers, and social media platforms to accelerate their efforts to remove fake news linking 5G to the spread of COVID-19. Full Fact, the UK’s independent fact-checking charity has confirmed that there is no link between 5G and COVID-19. We also urge governments around the world to take swift action against disinformation, vandalism, and threats against mobile network field engineers.”

In the UK alone, at least seven mobile towers have been set on fire in the past week. Four were set on fire in the past 24 hours or so.

“We have received several reports of criminal damage to phone masts and abuse of telecoms engineers apparently inspired by crackpot conspiracy theories circulating online,” tweeted the UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport.

“Those responsible for criminal acts will face the full force of the law.”

Note: While we generally promote healthy debate between differing views, we’ll not be approving any comments supporting vandalism or unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.

Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this and sharing their use-cases? Attend the co-located IoT Tech ExpoBlockchain ExpoAI & Big Data ExpoCyber Security & Cloud Expo and 5G Expo World Series with upcoming events in Silicon Valley, London and Amsterdam and explore the future of enterprise technology.

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