By Karl Bode
On one end, you’ve got wireless carriers implying that 5G is some type of cancer curing miracle (it’s not). On the other hand, we have oodles of conspiracy theorists, celebrities, and various grifters trying to claim 5G is some kind of rampant health menace (it’s not). In reality, 5G’s not actually interesting enough to warrant either position, but that’s clearly not stopping anybody in the post-truth era.
But it’s all fun and games until somebody gets hurt.
Baseless conspiracy theories about the health impact of 5G have gone next level during the pandemic. To the point where facts-optional nitwits are not only burning down cell towers in the UK, but putting razor blades and needles underneath protest posters on telephone poles (apparently you solve public health risks by… putting peoples’ health at risk?). We’ve seen a few attacks on telecom infrastructure and employees here in the States, but it’s been notably worse in the UK, where telecom engineers are now being routinely insulted and threatened:
“Most incidents could be classified as harassment. Shouted insults, death threats, and the like. But others were more violent. Razor blades and needles had been hidden behind posters on telephone poles, waiting to catch unwitting hands. Attackers had set cellphone masts on fire and shared the videos on social media to the applause of fellow conspiracists. According to figures shared with The Verge by industry body Mobile UK, there were more than 200 incidents of abuse against telecoms engineers since March 30th and more than 90 arson attacks against mobile infrastructure.”
The 5G conspiracy theorists are routinely bipartisan in nature. Some, on the left, originate from the “healing powers of crystals” and anti-vaccination set, and believe every shaky, worldview-confirming health claim they can get their hands on. Others, on the right, have stumbled into the 5G conspiracies thanks to their association with histrionic dog shit like Q Anon. In the UK, it’s at the point where technicians that don’t even work on wireless infrastructure have to tread carefully. Like the tech at the heart of the above-linked Verge article, who spends his days repairing fiber and DSL lines:
“She raised her voice almost immediately: ‘You’re killing people. You know what you’re doing. How could you do this?’”
He tried to follow company training and not engage with the accusations, but the woman was getting more and more upset. 5G was causing the symptoms of COVID-19, she told him, and he was secretly installing the high-speed network under instructions from the local council.
The woman was beginning to drag in bystanders at this point. She corralled a group of men who were drinking in the street and pointed Qureshi out to them. “He’s the one who’s killing everyone,” she told them. “He’s spreading all this virus.”
Apparently, it’s just too difficult to be able to distinguish between a DSL cabinet and a wireless tower? The problem isn’t being helped by the large number of grifting jackasses receiving unwarranted fame via social media. Or celebrities like John Cusack, who recently joined the chorus of 5G health conspiracies despite seemingly not understanding how the technology works (or that many flavors of 5G are actually far less powerful than even existing 4G networks).
Much of the recent popularity of idiotic conspiracy is driven by justified public distrust in our most important institutions. Many have lost faith in the health care system, government, news outlets, corporations, and leaders who’ve routinely prioritized profit over human health, the truth, or an equitable society. Fix the core rot at these institutions with an eye on a more equitable society, and much of the potency of conspiracy (not to mention Russia/Chinese/Iranian exploitation of said conspiracy) dissipates back into the the gullible fringes where it belongs.