While it is the season of protests, one agitation goes beyond the realm of all sensibility. On Saturday, 6th June 2020, doubters and critics of 5G communication technology are organizing a ‘Global 5G Protest Day’.
The event will take place amid a backdrop of a misinformation drive to demonize the new internet technology as the root of coronavirus and also having massive ‘bio-effects’ on human health. The Global 5G Protest Day will also take place days after Europe, particularly the UK, saw 5G towers vandalized and 5G technicians being abused.
Consequently, telecom companies are wary of the protest day event which may result in 5G towers and infrastructure being attacked by protesters. As reported by C-Net, American 5G equipment manufacturer Ericsson has decided to halt work on towers in the US for the weekend. Similarly, AT&T and T-Mobile have told their workers to be careful on the weekend. Similar demonstrations are also organized in European countries like Italy, Sweden, and the UK. The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association (NATE), a nonprofit trade association that represents cell tower technicians and companies in the USA, the UK, China, Canada, Spain, Singapore, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and at least six other companies issued an advisory.
“NATE reminds our member companies and their employees to remain safe, exercise vigilance and report any unusual or suspicious activities that they witness when traveling to and working at tower sites this weekend.”Trade Group NATE’s advisory to members on Global 5G Protest Day
False conspiracy theories around 5G being a health hazard were rampant on social media back in April. A theory claimed that radio waves used by 5G networks had caused the virus. This led YouTube to ban videos that claimed 5G caused coronavirus. Likewise, after cases of tower burning and misbehavior with technicians, the UK national medical director came out and stated that the 5G conspiracy theory was “complete and utter rubbish”.
Hoax Artists and Pseudo-scientists
Conspiracy theorists have long tried to instill fear in the masses around the use of allegedly ‘deadly radio waves’ used for high-speed internet. Before 5G, these social media fearmongers attached similar ideas of cancerous tumors, sterility, weakened immunity, and DNA harm to 4G. Websites selling the idea like the5gsummit.com and stop5ginternational.org give readers information which they call “unbiased” and vouched by “leading independent experts”. Articles and topics of discussion include questions like the threat posed by 5G to the immune system. The 5G Summit website also has an interview with one Rashid Buttar on ‘CIA-declassified research that reveals massive bio-effects from 5G mm-Wave radiation’.
Watch: Conspiracy theorists set fire to 5G towers
While it is unclear if the Global 5G Protest Day is directly linked to the new conspiracy theories linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, a misinformation campaign with the hashtag #5GCoronavirus which trended in the UK for a week in late March and early April is pointed out by a research article recently published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. As per the study, 35% of the sampled tweets positively linked 5G and coronavirus while 32.2% denounced the conspiracy theory. Most tweets quoted lesser-known websites or YouTube videos that have since been banned. Despite the check on misinformation by social media platforms and advisories by governments, the theorists are finding high-profile endorsers like controversial British celebrity chef Pete Evans who recently backed a “ridiculous protest against vaccines and 5G towers”, as reported by Daily Mail.
No proof of 5G’s ill-effects
Conspiracy theories around 5G’s ill-effects on health stem out from the notion that it is deployed on ‘higher and deadlier spectrum bands’. However, that statement is not entirely true. T-Mobile deploys 5G on the same sub-GHz bands it uses for 4G. Similarly, the preferred range for 5G among European carriers is 3.5GHz which is not much higher than the 3G and 4G frequencies. While 5G frequencies are at a higher range of spectrum they are far from being close to ‘ionizing’ levels where radio waves carry health hazards. While the max frequency that 5G would ever reach is 66GHz, radio waves reach hazardous levels at around 30 petahertz (1 PHz = 1000000 GHz). As Iain Morris at Light Reading notes, “You might as well worry about getting altitude sickness on a beach”.
Nevertheless, attacks on 5G infrastructure, a direct result of conspiracy theories linking the technology to COVID-19, has alarmed telecom companies as well as governments. Earlier, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Infrastructure Security Agency (ISA) both advised wireless operators on ways to protect network infrastructure through sensing, physical barriers, and video surveillance. The World Health Organization (WHO) also clarified that radio waves or mobile networks cannot act as virus carriers, evidencing coronavirus outbreaks in countries devoid of high-speed internet networks.