(CNET) — As the coronavirus sweeps the globe, so do rumors about what caused it and how it’s spread. One that’s gained steam online is that new 5G networks caused the disease. That’s completely wrong. Radio waves can’t create a virus, which is what causes COVID-19.
But that hasn’t stopped threats against broadband engineers and possible arson attacks against UK phone towers, prompting UK carriers to ask people to stop burning the towers and the UK’s national medical director to call out the 5G conspiracy theory as “complete and utter rubbish.” Communications networks are crucial in the fight against the pandemic.
The conspiracy theory has spread on social media. Keri Hilson, an American singer with 4.2 million followers on Twitter, sent several tweets last month that attempted to link the coronavirus to 5G. She wrote: “People have been trying to warn us about 5G for YEARS. Petitions, organizations, studies…what we’re going thru is the affects [sic] of radiation. 5G launched in CHINA. Nov 1, 2019. People dropped dead.”
In early April, actor Woody Harrelson became the latest celebrity to falsely connect 5G to the coronavirus. He shared an article in an Instagram post, saying that while he hasn’t “fully vetted” rumors linking 5G to the pandemic sweeping the globe, “I find it very interesting.”
Others on YouTube and Facebook, including an anti-5G Facebook group, have also shared false claims. But YouTube on Monday said it’d reduce recommendations for 5G-coronavirus hoax videos and remove ones that go against its policies for giving unverified medical information.
“We’re committed to providing timely and helpful information at this critical time, including raising authoritative content, reducing the spread of harmful misinformation and showing information panels, using NHS and WHO data, to help combat misinformation,” YouTube said in a statement. We also have clear policies that prohibit videos promoting medically unsubstantiated methods to prevent the coronavirus in place of seeking medical treatment, and we quickly remove videos violating these policies when flagged to us.”
And Facebook also said it’s removing posts inaccurately connecting 5G to the coronavirus.
“We are taking aggressive steps to stop misinformation and harmful content from spreading on our platforms and connect people to accurate information about coronavirus,” the company said in a statement. “Under our existing policies against harmful misinformation, we are starting to remove false claims which link COVID-19 to 5G technology and could lead to physical harm.”
In March, a Facebook user named Ben Mackie falsely linked 5G to the coronavirus, saying in part that it’s not actually a virus. “They are trying to get u scared of a fake ass virus when it the 5G towers being built around the world,” he said. He also claimed that Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates invented the technology and that it’s an effort to depopulate the world. And Mackie said that vaccines being developed for the coronavirus are actually chips that will be implanted in people.
Those claims were debunked by UK fact checker FullFact, and other experts have chimed in.
“This story about 5G has no credence scientifically and is certainly a potential distraction, as is other such misinformation, from controlling the COVID-19 epidemic,” said Dr. Jonathan M. Samet, dean of the Colorado School of Public Health.
Brendan Carr, who serves on the Federal Communications Commission, tweeted that Hilson’s effort to link 5G to the coronavirus “is straight from the most dangerous depths of tin foil hat land.” He noted that COVID-19 is caused by a virus that’s spread by person-to-person contact, not by radio waves, and he reiterated that the FCC, Food and Drug Administration, and Environmental Protection Agency all say 5G is safe.
5G is the new, super-fast wireless technology that’s been rolling out across the globe. In the US, major cities have live 5G networks. 5G is also live in a number of other countries, such as China, South Korea, Germany and the UK. The technology is poised to change the way we live and is expected to power everything from self-driving cars to advanced augmented reality experiences. The belief is whatever country leads in 5G will lead the world over the coming decades and possibly longer.
5G health concerns?
But ever since companies first started talking about 5G, there have been concerns expressed by some people about the technology’s impact on health. One version of 5G, called millimeter wave, runs on very high-frequency radio waves. Those signals can’t travel long distances, which requires towers to be placed close together and installed in more locations. That has reignited worries that the radio waves could produce harmful radiation that could cause brain cancer, reduced fertility, headaches and other illnesses.
The FDA and FCC say there’s nothing to worry about because studies haven’t found a link between radio frequency signals from cellphones or cell towers and disease. But because 5G is so new, there’s no definitive way to know if it will cause long-term health problems.
What can be definitively stated is that 5G doesn’t cause or spread a virus.
“It’s a ridiculous concept,” said John Bucher, a senior scientist with the National Toxicology Program, a US Health and Human Services interagency program dedicated to testing and evaluating substances in our environment. “Each year, you get a new strain of flu that goes around. That’s what viruses do — mutate and move around that way, probably as long as there’s been life.”