The worldwide spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has created fertile ground for misinformation and conspiracy theories. On social media, one popular theory is that 5G mobile towers and technology are at the root of the disease.
Some have suggested that there is no virus, but that 5G is being used to intentionally make people sick.
As the development of 5G technology has gained speed, scientists have been responding to concerns about its danger and assuring the public that there is no evidence that it is harmful.
Nonetheless, reports suggest that the Russia-funded news network, RT America, is trying to capitalize on people’s fears by spreading unfounded rumors about the technology.
The 5G coronavirus conspiracy theories
In the first weeks of March, as the spreading coronavirus was gaining increased attention in the American media, a conspiracy theory began spreading across social media. As reported by CNET, users on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube were claiming that COVID-19 was caused by the development of 5G technology.
To cite just one example, on March 10 a Facebook user by the name of Ben Mackie wrote a long post promoting the theory. Without providing any outside evidence for his claims, Mackie wrote that “the Corona virus” (sic) wasn’t a virus at all, but the result of “5G towers being built around the world.” Mackie claims that Bill Gates created the pandemic and that the billionaire is helping to develop a fake vaccine to implant “micro chips” (sic) in people.
Mackie’s post also claims that Chinese doctors are actors and that radiation from 5G towers is “frying your brain.” While the post remains up, it now features a Facebook disclaimer saying, “False Information: Checked by independent fact-checkers.” Nonetheless, the post has been shared 2,600 times.
Other social media users have shared similar sentiments about 5G’s link to the coronavirus. In early March, the American singer/songwriter Keri Hilson shared a series of tweets and videos that also stated 5G was the cause of the virus. She has since tweeted, “Management has asked me to delete vid/articles.”
As with all conspiracy theories, it’s impossible to know if the posts were expressing the genuine beliefs of the writers. Regardless, the misinformation still spreads.
Is 5G a danger?
As the CNET story explains, this is hardly the first time 5G (which stands for fifth generation) has been at the center of conspiracy theories. The core of people’s concerns is the question of whether 5G technology and the radiation it creates is dangerous to humans.
The scientific consensus is that the threat posed to humans by 5G technology is virtually nonexistent. This is because the radiation created and used by 5G technology is different from the kind of radiation that can damage cells.
There are two types of radiation: ionizing radiation (which includes solar ultraviolet rays), which can cause damage, and non-ionizing radiation (found in 5G technology), which doesn’t.
5G technology is a form of mobile technology that is being developed by major technology companies around the world. As an increasing number of devices (including kitchen appliances and smart homes) link to the internet, the current 4G mobile standard isn’t sufficient to keep up with the demand. Thus, the development of 5G technology is both a necessary and profitable expansion.
Russian conspiracy theories
In May 2019, The New York Times reported on an alleged plot by state-run Russian media to spread fear about 5G technology. The hub of this misinformation campaign was the Russian television network, RT (formerly Russia Today), a news network that airs in the United States as RT America.
When discussing the alleged benefits of 5G on a segment that ran on RT America last year, the host asked the station’s reporter if there was any catch. “Just a small one,” the reporter replied. “It might kill you.”
Other reports on RT America have suggested that 5G technology could cause “brain cancer, infertility, autism, heart tumors and Alzheimer’s disease.”
As the Times report states, there has been no scientific support for any of those claims.
Questioned about the network’s coverage of 5G, Anna Belkina, the head of communications for RT, responded that, “Unlike many other media, we show the breadth of debate.” She added, “Our American audience expects us to bring American concerns to the front, first and foremost.”
Despite claims that the technology is life-threatening, Russia is itself developing 5G technology. The supposed purpose behind the spreading of conspiracies, like other alleged disinformation campaigns that have their root in Russia, is global disruption. It’s believed that Russia is struggling to keep up with the development of the latest technologies, so it’s hoping to sow discord among other more developed countries.
A disinformation campaign is successful when it creates confusion and makes it hard to determine who is a reliable source of information. If the intention behind the RT campaign was in fact to spread false information about 5G, it looks like it has in part succeeded as evidenced by the proliferation of these posts amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
What is a virus?
A virus is a living entity smaller than bacteria and contains both DNA and RNA. However, a virus cannot live without a host body and can only reproduce by using the cells of that host.
While humans have learned how to create viruses, studies of COVID-19 (short for “coronavirus disease”) have debunked the idea that it was created by anything other than nature. Since the virus first began spreading in China, doctors have known the disease is a coronavirus, a family of viruses that can infect humans and animals.
The official full name of the virus is “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2” (sometimes shortened to SARS-CoV-2).
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