5G is in the news again this week, with a flurry of conspiracy theories claiming a link between the new mobile tech, Chinese tech giant Huawei and phone masts.
A number of 5G phone masts across the UK – in Birmingham, Merseyside, Belfast and elsewhere – being set on fire, and threats to broadband engineers by people who seem to believe radiation from 5G masts is lowering people’s immune systems (and, hence, more likely to suffer from coronavirus.)
When the news appeared on The Guardian online over the weekend, my first thought was “is this a late April fools gag?”
But then, on closer inspection, it turned out to be worryingly true. All the other major national papers and many mainstream technology outlets – including i news, The Times, The BBC, The Telegraph, The Register and others – were quick to cover the story, with the i news’ Rhiannon Williams amongst the first to point out, in a piece with the very CLEAR headline:
“Why 5G is not causing the coronavirus pandemic, despite the conspiracy theory about towers, Wuhan and radiation,” and an even CLEARER sub-header:
“All scientific evidence points to 5G in its current form being non-harmful to humans, despite the coronavirus conspiracies on social media.”
Yet despite being repeatedly debunked by independent fact-checking charity Full Fact the 5G mast burners were still out in force across the UK.
“All scientific evidence points to 5G in its current form being non-harmful to humans. Like its predecessor, it uses radio signals over a range of frequency bands to transmit and receive voice and data by communicating with base stations – stationary radio transmitters with antennas mounted on masts or buildings,” i news’ report patiently explains.
So why are these 5G-COVID-Wuhan conspiracies still gaining so much traction? Is it because there is more appetite for such scandalous and fact-free conspiracies in a time when we are all locked away in our houses, glued to our social media feeds even more so than usual?
One Spreckley contact, with considerable experience of next-gen 5G mobile technologies, when asked for his insight into the matter, merely told us: “What COVID-19 has uncovered apart from our unpreparedness to tackle a pandemic of this nature, is just how many crazy people are living amongst the populous!”
Which, we have to admit, is exactly how we feel about the matter.
Is the mainstream PR for 5G tech lacking?
But is it fair to rush to dismiss the appetite for news that appears to link China, 5G and COVID-19 right now?
Could it be (whisper it) also down to the fact that the scientific evidence for 5G being completely harmless to humans needs to be communicated better to mainstream readers, viewers and audiences? Is the PR for 5G failing at that level and in this essential regard?
“The theory started back in January, and it seems to have taken hold of people who were probably a bit suspicious of 5G because of stories from the past that the UK government were using 5G technology from Huawei,” tech journalist Guy Cocker patiently explained to TalkSport DJ Julia Hartley-Brewer on national radio this week.
“It seems to have spread through Facebook predominantly, by a number of trusted sources with considerable numbers of follows. These claims can get hold and they can spread like wildfire.”