Angry UK citizens have set phone towers ablaze as rumours that the coronavirus pandemic is somehow linked to 5G continue to gain traction online.
The BBC reported fires in Birmingham, Liverpool, and Melling while videos of the arson attacks on UK phone towers recently appeared online.
One video from Belfast, Ireland, reportedly included audible voices saying “F*ck 5G” and “viva la revolution” as flames engulfed the 5G tower.
Theories about the so-called dangers of 5G have been doing the rounds since rollouts began, but the coronavirus has added a new dimension to the misinformation.
UK fact checking organisation, Full Fact, has smacked down two different alleged relationships between 5G and COVID-19 – that 5G negatively affects human immune systems; and that the virus is transmitted via radio waves – dismissing both ideas as completely false.
In a press conference over the weekend, UK cabinet secretary, Michael Gove, called the misinformation about 5G “dangerous nonsense” while head of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), Steve Powis, said the 5G stories were “complete and utter rubbish”.
“It’s the worst kind of fake news,” Powis said.
“The reality is the mobile phone networks are absolutely critical to all of us, particularly at a time when we are asking people to stay at home and to not see relatives and friends – but in particular those are also the phone networks used by our emergency services and our health workers.”
Four major UK telcos – EE, O2, Three, and Vodafone – put out a joint statement on Monday confirming the arson attacks and pleading for people to stop the spread of coronavirus misinformation.
“Sadly, we have experienced cases of vandals setting fire to mobile masts, disrupting critical infrastructure and spreading false information suggesting a connection between 5G and the COVID-19 pandemic,” the joint statement said.
“Not only are these claims baseless, they are harmful for the people and businesses that rely on the continuity of our services.
“They have also led to the abuse of our engineers and, in some cases, prevented essential network maintenance taking place.
“Please help us to make this stop.”
BBC reporter, Charlie Haynes, shared a video on Twitter last week of a woman harassing workers laying fibre for 5G.
This is the consequence of those bonkers Facebook conspiracy theories about 5G. Key workers getting harassed on the street. pic.twitter.com/5z35r6sabp— Charlie Haynes (@charliehtweets) April 2, 2020
The person recording the video approaches the two men laying cables, questions them why they were “not doing essential work” while social distancing measures are in place before suggesting their technology will cause the deaths of their loved ones.
“You know that kills people?” she asks. “You know when they turn that on, it’s going to kill everyone and that’s why they’re building the hospitals?”
Stop the spread
Social media platforms have been working to try and stop the spread of misinformation.
YouTube responded the reports of 5G phone tower destruction by saying it would put a limit to the spread of videos promoting the conspiracy theory.
A YouTube spokesperson recently told the Guardian that the social media giant had “begun reducing recommendations of borderline content such as conspiracy theories related to 5G and coronavirus, that could misinform users in harmful ways”.
Facebook is also in talks with the UK government about how to limit the spread of coronavirus conspiracy theories, according to the Telegraph.
The company is already attempting to label misinformation on its platforms – an issue that has been ongoing throughout the pandemic.
Unfortunately, that is a job is made more difficult when celebrities like Hollywood actor Woody Harrelson share the potentially dangerous posts.
Last week, the movie star posted an image to his two million Instagram followers outlining the theory that 5G rollouts in Wuhan added to the spread of COVID-19 by suppressing immune systems.
“Alot [sic] of my friends have been talking about the negative effects of 5G,” Harrelson said in the Instagram post.
“My friend camilla seems [sic] this to me today and though I haven’t fully vetted it I find it very interesting.”