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The coronavirus pandemic, as with most major global events, has inspired a number of conspiracy theories that are in no way supported by scientific fact. Assuming COVID-19 isn't the invention of Bill Gates, another fanciful theory asserts that 5G networks are in some way to blame. It's natural to dismiss this type of tin foil thinking as mostly harmless, but things have now escalated to the point where three 5G masts in the UK have been attacked, with arson by conspiracy theorists named as the probable cause.
If you go on Twitter in the UK right now, you'll see that #5GCoronavirus has been trending for the last couple of days and it certainly makes for interesting reading. A not insignificant number of people seem to be on board with the idea that 5G is at least somewhat to blame for the spread of coronavirus, with one theory suggesting it weakens the human immune system with its supposedly harmful radiation or. Even more bizarrely, some believe that viruses are able to communicate through radio waves, and thus the 5G network is assisting coronavirus in its spread. I want to write that you couldn't make this stuff up, but apparently you can.
Several Facebook groups dedicated to these wild and unsubstantiated theories have also popped up, and it's thought that these have encouraged three separate attacks on phone masts in the UK. Network equipment in Liverpool, Birmingham, and Belfast have been set on fire in recent days, with police investigators suspecting arson in each case. Considerable damage was caused at all three sites, but luckily nobody was hurt. In addition to the aforementioned social media groups, several Z-list celebrities (whose names I won't publicize here) have been criticized for circulating the theories that have inspired these attacks.
— Sam Ali (@S_Ali25) April 2, 2020
Furthermore, telecoms engineers have reportedly been subjected to abuse by members of the public, regardless of whether what they're doing has anything to do with 5G. The fact that these technicians are carrying out vital work to keep lines of communication open while the UK is in lockdown makes this all the more absurd. Independent fact-checking charity Full Fact is doing its best to educate the UK population on these spurious claims, and UK media regulators have warned outlets they will face sanctions if they aid in the spread of the baseless theories.
Facebook has removed many of the more aggressive groups responsible for spreading this type of misinformation, but judging by the substantial number of people I've seen on that platform and others who seem to truly believe that 5G is in some way to blame for the coronavirus pandemic, it looks as though this situation could get worse before it gets better.
UK network EE issues statement condemning the attacks
In a statement given to The Verge, UK network operator EE confirms that the damage done to its cell tower in Birmingham was likely the result of arson. A spokesperson for the carrier also said that the site provided 2G, 3G, and 4G coverage to customers in the area, suggesting that the attacker(s) wrongly identified the equipment as 5G-related. The UK government has rightly called on social media networks to help stop the spread of the responsible conspiracy theories at a time when telecommunications infrastructure is vital to not only the general public but also emergency services and healthcare professionals.
YouTube bans 5G-coronavirus conspiracy videos as WhatsApp implements stricter measures
Google has promised to delete any videos that propagate false claims about 5G networks having something to do with the coronavirus pandemic from YouTube. The platform's original stance was only that it would recommend such videos less frequently, but after a live-streamed video hosted by celebrity conspiracy theorist David Icke was seen by 65,000 users, a decision was made to take more meaningful action. At around the same time, WhatsApp introduced its own measure to help quell the spread of misinformation on its service — it will now only be possible to forward messages to one recipient at a time. Anything shared more than five times in total will have a double arrow label to let users know they're getting regurgitated information.
22 new attacks on EE phone masts over Easter holiday
This story just keeps running and running. While regulator Ofcom is looking into a TV presenter for comments he made on a popular morning TV show, 22 new attacks on phone masts belonging to UK network EE have been reported over the Easter long weekend. This Morning host Eamonn Holmes made remarks on live TV that suggest he's doubtful of the science refuting a connection between 5G and coronavirus, for which he's now under investigation. Here's what he had to say:
"No-one should attack or damage or do anything like that, but it's very easy to say it is not true because it suits the state narrative. That's all I would say, as someone with an inquiring mind."
Meanwhile, 22 EE phone masts suffered deliberate fire damage over the weekend, the majority of which weren't even 5G related. The attacks were mostly in Liverpool and Birmingham, and luckily not all of them were successful. Nobody has been injured as a result of this new spate of arson attempts, and several arrests have been made in connection with them. Altogether, more than 40 sites have been targeted since the conspiracy theory has been popularized on social media and the spread by well-known personalities continues to be a problem.