Alt-right groups started the coronavirus 5G conspiracy. Now it needs to stop

(Image credit: Future)

According to a recent article in Wired, the initial link between 5G and coronavirus first appeared in a Belgium newspaper, in an interview with Kris Van Kerckhoven, a general practitioner from the Antwerp area. (An interview which has now been removed.)

But it wasn’t until the website Info Wars published a video with the title ‘5G launches in Wuhan weeks before coronavirus outbreak’, that the theory began to gain traction. 

In the description of its video presentation – as with all good conspiracy theories – Info Wars tried to link a series of unconnected events:

“In this Infowars Special Report, Greg Reese connects the dots between the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a Netflix docuseries pitching vaccines as a solution to outbreaks, Wuhan’s recent launch of 5G and warnings from experts who say 5G could cause ‘flu-like symptoms’,” the description read.

The role of the alt-right

A quick look at Google Trends, using any manner of phrases including ‘5G’ and ‘coronavirus’, shows that it was following the publication of this video that interest surged. And it was amongst far-right groups – those most engaged with Info Wars, and the views of its founder, Alex Jones – that this new conspiracy began to seed itself.

(Image credit: Google)

In a recent survey by ‘HOPE not hate’, a political action group set up to counter the increasing popularity of the British far-right group the BNP, 8% of the British public agreed that the rollout of 5G was contributing to the spread of coronavirus, while 19% said they were still unsure. The report also looked at the primary groups which were spreading the coronavirus theory, and found that they also contained anti-Semetic and other racist content.

“With 59,000 members and hundreds of posts per day, STOP 5G U.K was the largest and most active UK-based anti-5G group prior to its deletion,” the site claims. “In amongst the anti-5G discussion were hundreds of posts about unrelated conspiracies, including antisemitic posts about supposed Jewish control of the world and the pro-Trump ‘QAnon’ hoax.”

(Image credit: Hope Not Hate)

Seeking validation

Those seeking to validate the theory have jumped on a video presentation by Dr. Thomas Cowan, M.D – which has now been removed by YouTube for violating its community guidelines – where he claimed that, because Africa was not as affected by the coronavirus outbreak, you could see how 5G could be the cause of the virus. However, this is very clearly not the case, with the latest World Health Organization figures showing 17,000 cases, amidst fears it could hit 10 million cases within the next six months.

Fast forward to April, and we have seen a spate of 5G tower attacks across the UK (at least 20, according to a Guardian report earlier this month), telecoms engineers have been both physically and verbally assaulted, and mainstream voices - such as sports personalities and TV presenters – have shared the erroneous claims.

But the science is clear: 5G has absolutely nothing to do with the spread of the coronavirus, and poses no threat to human health.

The science shows no connection

In March 2020, following a period of extensive research, the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) deemed 5G to be safe. The research considered other types of effects, such as the potential development of cancer in the human body as a result of exposure to radio waves. 

“We know parts of the community are concerned about the safety of 5G, and we hope the updated guidelines will help put people at ease," said Dr Eric van Rongen, chairman of the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). “We find that the scientific evidence for that is not enough to conclude that indeed there is such an effect,” concluded van Rongen. 

In other tests, the UK telecoms regulator, Ofcom, carried out the UK’s first safety experiments on 5G base stations and found no identifiable risks since 5G technology was deployed, with radiation levels at ‘tiny fractions’ of safe limits.

Spreading an ‘infodemic’

The World Health Organization (WHO) has labelled the spread of these theories an ‘infodemic’ and a joint statement was recently released by the UK’s four mobile network operators, EE, O2, Three, and Vodafone, rubbishing the claims of conspiracy theorists.

And BT’s CEO, Marc Allera, went on to state that the theories connecting 5G with Covid-19, most of which are being made in local Facebook groups and on platforms such as Twitter and Instagram, as ‘baseless’, and he has urged the public to leave the company’s phone masts alone.

“Phone masts keep us all connected at this extraordinary time,” Allera wrote in a recent tweet. “And yet we're seeing reports of masts vandalised because of a conspiracy theory linking 5G tech to the spread of Covid-19. This claim is baseless. We must look after the infrastructure and people keeping us in touch.” 

At a time when keeping our mobile networks online has never been more important, these mast attacks continue to undermine the efforts of mobile network operators around the world, and 5Gradar will continue to support and champion next-generation wireless network technology, in all its forms.

Dan Oliver

Dan is a British journalist with 20 years of experience in the design and tech sectors, producing content for the likes of Microsoft, Adobe, Dell and The Sunday Times. In 2012 he helped launch the world's number one design blog, Creative Bloq. Dan is now editor-in-chief at 5Gradar, where he oversees news, insight and reviews, providing an invaluable resource for anyone looking to stay up-to-date with the key issues facing 5G.