A ‘baseless’ conspiracy theory that caught social media frenzy this week has been linked to at least two suspected arson attacks in the United Kingdom.
The unfounded claim, which has been repeatedly debunked by mainstream scientists and fact-checkers, linked coronavirus to 5G broadband technology without any scientific evidence. After circulating on multiple social media channels this week, officials in Liverpool and Birmingham now feared physical attacks against 5G infrastructure had happened in both cities.
In Liverpool, a 5G tower was set on fire Friday night, Liverpool Echo reported. The paper said the attack came hours after the city mayor, Joe Anderson, slammed “bizarre” conspiracy theories that 5G was the carrier of COVID-19, a strain of coronavirus that has infected over one million people and killed over 60,000 as of April 4.
“I am amazed that there are people out there who (are) saying things like this, that COVID-19 is somehow linked to 5G,” Mr Anderson said.
In Birmingham, a 70-foot mast holding a 5G broadband network was burnt by people suspected to be campaigning against the technology amidst unproven basis that it was somehow responsible for spreading the virus, The Guardian reported.
The Guardian said engineers working on cellphone infrastructure have faced harassment in recent days, and Facebook had removed a group that preaches violence against 5G installations.
The attacks have hampered efforts to ensure adequate Internet service to homes across the UK, reports said.
While not entirely new, the conspiracy theory purporting a link between 5G and contagious diseases has picked up this week, with some British celebrities also joining in circulating it.
But, the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said it was aware of the rumour and urged the public to dismiss it.
“We are aware of inaccurate information being shared online about 5G,” the office said on Twitter. “There is absolutely no credible evidence of a link between 5G and coronavirus.”
Also, a fact-checking think-tank, Full Fact, said the claim stemmed from two distorted theories.
One claimed 5G suppresses the immune system. But while 5G uses different radio frequencies compared to earlier generations, its waveband remained “non-ionising”, indicating that it cannot generate enough energy to smash the DNA in human cells.
The second theory rode on the claim of a biologist who suggested bacteria could generate radio waves, a controversial theory that has been debunked by mainstream scientists.
But the theory failed to explain why the virus has been spreading to some UK cities and other countries where 5G has not been deployed.
The last 5G technology has been touted as being 10 times faster than its predecessor, 4G, with the capacity to let doctors diagnose patients, conduct x-rays and even perform surgical operations remotely. Although the technology has picked rapidly since early 2019, most countries have not adopted it as of March 2020.