What is 5G and Why are People Linking it to Coronavirus?
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Last week, Apple said that its latest iPhones will feature 5G technology, and depending on what corners of the internet you browse, that information might paralyze you with fear. Why?
Because the basement-bunker men in all those YouTube videos said that 5G technology is just the latest scheme to assert total government control. The evidence is right before our eyes, man: 5G towers activate the coronavirus, which the government created in a lab and dispersed onto the public, which will allow them to mandate mind control vaccine chips — developed by Bill Gates, obviously — that will censor our thoughts and authorize police to jail us for wrong-think.
Unfortunately, we need to be exceptionally clear about this stuff: 5G-related coronavirus conspiracies are bullshit. 5G technology does not cause COVID-19. It does not spread COVID-19. It does not worsen COVID-19 symptoms. It does not reduce our defenses to COVID-19. It does not do any of those things, okay?
Instead, the only real relationship between 5G technology and the coronavirus appears to be the grossly unfortunate marriage of their related conspiracy theories online.
Today, let’s take a brief look at what 5G technology actually is, and more importantly, how an emerging technology and a global pandemic created ripe conditions for new conspiracies.
What is 5G Technology?
5G technology is simple. It represents the fifth generation of wireless network technology. You know how our phones already connect to cellular data service through 4G networks? This is an advancement to that.
Already, major cell phone providers are building their own 5G networks that, with the right cell phones, will allow folks to obtain higher online speeds. Ideally, that means shorter loading times, quicker downloads, instant high-def video playback, and the disappearance of online gaming lag.
But to develop the 5G networks, Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile workers have to literally go out into the world and build them, putting up either entirely new towers for 5G antennas, or attaching those antennas onto existing infrastructure—like telephone poles.
Sadly, those antennas have scared and upset a ton of folks.
By April of this year, people had already started roughly 50 fires in Britain, all of which targeted cell towers and other equipment. And in Bolivia this June, people tore down two communications antennas because they believed they were part of a rollout of 5G technology, but they were mistaken — the country did not have any 5G antennas.
These are serious attacks, and while some of them could relate to the recent conspiracy theories that tie 5G technology to the coronavirus, the truth is that a distrust of electromagnetic waves and wireless technology has plagued the public for years.
Decades ago, power lines were once believed to cause cancer in children and televisions and microwaves were considered harmful. Now, WiFi networks, cell phones, and, yes, 5G, are considered the primary culprits for everything from nausea to amnesia and from brain tumors to colony collapse disorder in bees.
So then how did a general distrust of wireless technologies incorporate a fear of the coronavirus?
First Traces of a COVID-19 Conspiracy
This year, Wired magazine found one of the first published claims that merged 5G fears with coronavirus concerns. In January, a Belgian newspaper quoted a general practitioner named Kris Van Kerckhoven who claimed not only that 5G was “life-threatening,” but also that “it may be a link with current events.”
These quotes soon caught fire. As Wired wrote:
“Van Kerckhoven’s comments were quickly picked up by anti-5G campaigners in the Dutch-speaking world, with Facebook pages linking to and quoting from the article… Within days, the conspiracy theory had spread to dozens of English-language Facebook pages.”
The fact that these ideas spread quickly is not too surprising. Today, you can find countless YouTube videos, Facebook groups, and devoted subgroups on Reddit that push conspiracy theories, from old beliefs that 9/11 was an inside job, to the idea that mass shootings are faked.
Basically, it’s easy to put unproven claims online. Getting people to entertain those theories, however, is harder.
Enter the coronavirus.
In speaking with The Washington Post, research assistant professor John Cook at the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University said that a “calamitous event” such as the coronavirus pandemic can provide “very fertile breeding grounds for conspiracy theories.”
What people look for during times of duress, Cook said, is reason and rationale. It can be hard to accept that something as world-shifting as the coronavirus came from nothing more than an animal, which gave the virus to a human, who simply gave it to enough humans that we eventually had to shelter in place.
But a grand scheme tying it all together? Strangely, for some people, that is easier to accept.
“Somewhat counterintuitively, [conspiracy theories give] people more sense of control to imagine that, rather than random things happening, there are these shadowy groups and agencies that are controlling it,” Cook told The Washington Post. “Randomness is very discomforting to people.”
Worsening the situation was that, on the most popular social media platforms, the algorithms that dictate what we see, do not prioritize quality so much as they prioritize some loose idea of “engagement”. Meaning that, whatever gains comments, views, and reactions, is more likely to get pushed in front of more people’s feeds.
So, take a universal problem — the pandemic — and toss in some 5G nonsense, and you get tons of reactions, comments, dislikes, likes, whatever. And before we knew it, we were surrounded by 5G coronavirus conspiracy theories.
But remember, there’s a lot you can do to help.
For starters, you can refuse to share such misinformation. Second, you can stop giving these types of videos any views — it only helps spread them further. And finally, you can push back if you want.
Look, we’re near an election. If ever there was a time to get into some Facebook flame wars, it’s now. Fight back on that disinformation. We believe in you.