Twitter, Facebook and other social media companies are being urged by the government to deal with a spate of conspiracy theories linking 5G to coronavirus.
Ministers will meet with the companies after mobile masts in Birmingham, Merseyside and Belfast were set on fire following theories being posted online.
Mobile companies described the fears 5G caused coronavirus as ‘baseless’, with the government describing the theories as harmful to public health.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson said that the idea of 5G masts being responsible for coronavirus is a ‘crazed conspiracy theory’.
Government officials will meet with the companies after mobile masts in Birmingham, Merseyside and Belfast were set on fire
There is no scientific evidence that 5G technology poses any threat to human health and it was confirmed as safe by the radiation watchdog last month.
As well as mast burning, engineers have been facing physical and verbal threats from those who believe the ‘baseless’ theories being spread on social media.
One of the prominent fears being spread by people, including some celebrities, includes the idea that radiation from 5G masts lowers people’s immune system.
Culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, will meet with Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Twitter ‘to hammer the message home’ that the claims are ‘utter rubbish’.
A spokesperson for the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport told the BBC they had several reports of criminal damage to phone masts and abuse of telecom engineers ‘inspired by crackpot conspiracy theories’.
‘Those responsible for criminal acts will face the full force of the law. We must also see social media companies acting responsibly and taking much swifter action to stop nonsense spreading on their platforms which encourages such acts.’
WHAT DO 5G CONSPIRACY THEORISTS BELIEVE?
One theory claims that the coronavirus originated in Wuhan because the city had been rolling out 5G.
It suggests it has been spread to other cities that are also using 5G.
Other theories suggest that the radiation emitted by 5G masts lowers the immune system of people nearby.
One version of this theory suggests the radiation sucks the oxygen out of the atmosphere and disrupts the regular functioning of the human body.
Scientists have described the claims as baseless and a biological ‘impossibility’.
Mobile UK, the trade body which represents network providers, said key workers had been abused and infrastructure threatened as a result of the claims.
National medical director of NHS England Professor Steve Powis said: ‘I’m absolutely outraged, absolutely disgusted, that people would be taking action against the very infrastructure that we need to respond to this health emergency.’
Last week, West Midlands Fire Service said eight firefighters attended an incident involving a 70ft tower on a telecommunications site in the Sparkhill area of Birmingham, although the cause of the fire was not determined.
Fire crews were called to a blaze at a phone mast in Aintree, Merseyside, on Friday night but a spokeswoman for Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service said there were ‘no signs of foul play’ so an investigation into its cause was not launched.
The mast had been featured in a video shared on social media the previous weekend by someone who claimed to be measuring radiation from it.
Cabinet Secretary Michael Gove said the theories spreading from various social media groups and profiles were ‘just nonsense, dangerous nonsense as well.’
Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, said: ‘Conspiracy theorists are a public health danger who once read a Facebook page.
‘Here, we also see similar groups of people keen to show their ignorance on a topic where they have no helpful expertise, nor any inclination to post useful public health messages.’
The world health organisation has branded the spread of disinformation about COVID-19 on social media platforms as an ‘infodemic’.
On 5G generally the World Health Organisation said: ”A large number of studies have been performed over the last two decades to assess whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk.
‘To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use.’
Professor Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics at the University of Bristol, said the internet connections from the 5G networks are one of the most important tools in the effort to co-ordinate the response to coronavirus.
Brendan Wren, professor of microbial pathogenesis, at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said a connection between the phone masts and the virus would be ‘both a physical and biological impossibility’.
Mobile networks including Three, O2, EE and Vodafone were forced to debunk the various theories circulating about 5G, especially those linking it to COVID-19.
They said it was concerning the pandemic was being used to further untruths.
Facebook deleted a Facebook group full of conspiracy theorists claiming 5G being emitted from masts was sparking coronavirus.
The company said it breached its policies because it had the potential to cause real world harm from the content being shared.
There were multiple videos claiming to show 5G towers on fire on the page and it encouraged others to do the same thing.
Facebook deleted a Facebook group full of conspiracy theorists claiming 5G being emitted from masts was sparking coronavirus
Mobile UK said it was ‘concerning that certain groups are using the Covid-19 pandemic to spread false rumours and theories about the safety of 5G technologies’.
‘More worryingly some people are also abusing our key workers and making threats to damage infrastructure under the pretence of claims about 5G,’ a statement said.
The group said it was ‘not acceptable’ as it impacts on the industry and its ability to maintain the resilience and capacity of the network to support people working from home during the pandemic lockdown.
‘Research into the safety of radio signals including 5G, conducted over more than 50 years, has led to the establishment of human exposure standards including safety factors that protect against all established health risks.’
Radiation watchdog ICNIRP published new guidelines for the use of the frequencies 5G uses and found there were ‘no risks of cancer or other illness’ after a 7 year study.
They have introduced new guidelines for device manufacturers that limit the use of the highest- 6Ghz – parts of the radio spectrum that could be used for 5G but aren’t implemented by any carriers in the UK or USA.
The number of theories about the impact of 5G on the human body has been rising, with some groups claiming it can cause male infertility, cancer and Alzheimer’s.
The most recent trend among conspiracy theorists has been to link it to COVID-19.
Mobile UK said it was ‘concerning that certain groups are using the Covid-19 pandemic to spread false rumours and theories about the safety of 5G technologies’
A spokeswoman for the GSMA – the body responsible for the telecom industry in the UK – said the guidelines prove existing technology is safe.
‘Importantly, the health risk assessment is unchanged. The review found no established health risks to anyone, including children, using mobile phones or living near base stations,’ she said.
All major telecom companies in the UK have now launched 5G networks, with more than 100 locations connected to the next generation service.
Other health theories blamed on the roll out of 5G include headaches and the spread of coronavirus.
Testing by UK communications regulator Ofcom of existing 5G masts found that they were using a ‘small fraction’ of allowable emissions with the highest reading at just 1.5 per cent of the maximum level.
Public Health England said: ‘The overall exposure is expected to remain low relative to guidelines and, as such, there should be no consequences for public health.’
Fact-checking site FullFact, the UK’s leading and independent fact-checking charity, said this week: ‘There is no evidence that 5G WiFi networks are linked to the new coronavirus.’
Director general of industry organisation GSMA, Mats Granryd, said: ‘The telecoms industry is working around the clock to keep vital health, education and emergency services online, businesses running, and friends and families connected.
‘It is deplorable that critical communications infrastructure is being attacked based on outright mistruths. We urge everyone to trust health authorities and rest assured communications technology is safe. There is no link between 5G and Covid-19.’
Ofcom has warned broadcasters not to spread the baseless theories as they ‘have the potential to undermine people’s trust in the advice of mainstream sources of information’ during a health crisis.
WHAT IS 5G AND WHAT DOES IT DO?
The evolution of the G system started in 1980 with the invention of the mobile phone which allowed for analogue data to be transmitted via phone calls.
Digital came into play in 1991 with 2G and SMS and MMS capabilities were launched.
Since then, the capabilities and carrying capacity for the mobile network has increased massively.
More data can be transferred from one point to another via the mobile network quicker than ever.
5G is expected to be 100 times faster than the currently used 4G.
Whilst the jump from 3G to 4G was most beneficial for mobile browsing and working, the step to 5G will be so fast they become almost real-time.
That means mobile operations will be just as fast as office-based internet connections.
Potential uses for 5g include:
Simultaneous translation of several languages in a party conference call Self-driving cars can stream movies, music and navigation information from the cloudA full length 8GB film can be downloaded in six seconds.
5G is expected to be so quick and efficient it is possible it could start the end of wired connections.
By the end of 2020, industry estimates claim 50 billion devices will be connected to 5G.
The evolution of from 1G to 5G. The predicted speed of 5G is more than 1Gbps – 1,000 times greater than the existing speed of 4G and could be implemented in laptops of the future