5G towers across the UK are being attacked following the spread of conspiracy theories online, prompting a response from social media firms, The UK Government and counter-terrorism authorities.
The conspiracy theories suggest that 5G is somehow connected to – or assisting in – the spread of COVID-19.
Across social media, content promoting the theories has begun circulating, with YouTube videos, Twitter posts and dedicated 5G conspiracy groups on Facebook helping fuel the spread of misinformation.
This spread has caused some members of the public to commit a series of arson attacks on 5G towers. On Sunday (5th April), UK telecoms giant Vodafone confirmed that four incidents involving 5G masts had been recorded in just 24-hours.
The company said the incidents occurred at sites operated by the firm as well as those it shares with O2, which also offers 5G services across the country.
In a joint statement signed by EE, O2, Vodafone and Three, the firms urged consumers to report and “call out” misinformation.
“Sadly, we have experienced cases of vandals setting fire to mobile masts, disrupting critical infrastructure and spread false information suggesting a connection between 5G and the COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement said.
“There is no scientific evidence of any link between 5G and coronavirus. Not only are these claims baseless, they are harmful for the people and businesses that rely on the continuity of our services,” it added.
According to Vodafone, the theories surrounding 5G has led to engineers being abused and harassed, preventing critical maintenance work from taking place. Vodafone CEO, Nick Jeffrey, took to LinkedIn to address the issue and insisted the theories are “utterly baseless”.
“I’m saddened today to report that vandals have carried out a series of arson attacks on mobile phone masts during this time of national crisis,” Jeffrey said.
“It beggars belief that some people should want to harm the very networks that are providing essential connectivity to the emergency services, the NHS, and rest of the country during this difficult lockdown period,” he added.
Jeffrey claimed that the attacks have now prompted a wider investigation, stating: “This is now a matter of national security. Police and counter terrorism authorities are investigating.”
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Although there is no evidence to suggest the conspiracy theories are true, they have been legitimised by uninformed celebrities on social media.
Former world champion boxer, Amir Khan, published a video on Instagram supporting the theory, suggesting that COVID-19 is a “man-made” illness being used to control populations during the deployment of 5G.
Actor Woody Harrelson has also promoted the theory, whilst Britain’s Got Talent host, Amanda Holden, shared a post urging users to sign an anti-5G petition. The post has since been deleted.
Social media companies are being forced to act as a result of the volume of fake news and 5G misinformation. Google-owned YouTube has begun reducing recommendations for 5G-related conspiracy videos and Facebook has also taken action against groups promoting the conspiracy theories, some of which were recording the locations of 5G masts for users to monitor.
In the UK Government’s daily briefing on Saturday (4th April), Michael Gove criticised the theories and those sharing them.
“The stories that have gone about, that they play a role in the spread of the disease, are nonsense, Dangerous nonsense as well,” he said.