Covid-19 and 5G: what happens when hoaxes find each other?

In the same way of legitimate news outlets, disinformation websites have a tendency to focus again and again on some beloved topics. One of these is the idea that 5G technology is harmful to human health, a claim that is has been repeatedly debunked.

But what happens to these beloved topics when a newcomer emerges, as in the case of Covid-19? Does one trump the other?

When it comes to 5G it appears that – at least in some instances – previous hoaxes coexist with new ones by being worryingly blended together. In the last few days, some social media users have started to link hoaxes on 5G technology with those on the new coronavirus, creating an explosive disinformation mix.

That is why SOMA – the European Observatory Against Disinformation – has decided to collect and debunk misleadings posts and articles on 5G and Covid-19 that have circulated around Europe.

Why 5G?

Before diving into debunking hoaxes related to 5G and Covid-19, it is important to understand what are the most recurrent false claims associated with 5G and why they are spread by disinformation websites.

According to an article published on the 16th of July 2019 by William J. Broad on the New York Times, the theories related to electronic devices’ radiations being a health hazard (including those coming from 5G) originated in 2000. In this year, Bill P. Curry, an American physicist and consultant, was asked by Broward County Public Schools in Florida to assess possible health risks connected to employing wireless networks and electronic devices.

Given the effects that – according to him – high-frequency microwave can have on the human brain, Curry reported these technologies to be a serious health hazard, capable of leading to cancer. This theory was then embraced by worried educators and consumers, spreading fastly and becoming common knowledge.

The problem with this report is that Curry wrote his analysis having in mind research on the effects of radiation on human cells internal to bodies, ignoring in this way the potential of human skin to act as a shield to this type of radiation waves. Several studies after that have proved that, given the relatively low level of frequency (if compared to harmful radiation waves like those from X Rays), radiations coming from electronic devices are neutralized by the barrier created by our skin.

Regardless of the scientific evidence saying otherwise, the idea that electronic devices such as cellphones and laptops are in some way harmful to human health has started to gain traction, with disinformation website taking advantage on this misunderstanding. 5G is simply the last piece of a disinformation campaign that profits from a long-standing general skepticism on technological developments.

Now that we’ve cleared why there is no evidence that 5G is in any way causing health issues, let’s move on seeing some of the false news on this technology that has been spread around Europe in connection with those on the new coronavirus.

No, there is no evidence that 5G activates Covid-19

A theory related to 5G and Covid-19 that has started to circulate online in Germany at the beginning of March and it has been debunked by our MimiKama – an Austrian debunking website that is part of the SOMA network.

According to this theory, 5G activated Sars-CoV-2 in China because in this country 5G technology is quite widespread. In other words, there is a positive correlation between 5G and Covid-19: if this technology is widespread in a country, then also Covid-19 will thrive.

However, this theory is easily falsifiable. In order to do that, MimiKama has employed Ooakla 5G Map, a tool that allows checking what is the 5G coverage in a specific city. If you use it over Wuhan, the center of the original outbreak, you’d find out that this city is covered by 5G only at a 10 per cent level.

At the same time, countries that have been harshly hit by the pandemic, like France and Iran have almost no 5G coverage, while others that are fully equipped with this technology, like Hong Kong and Puerto Rico, have been marginally affected by the virus.

The patient zero of disinformation

The idea that 5G is somehow related to Covid-19 has started to spread also in the Netherlands. On the website of NP03, the third channel of the Dutch public television, Eric Van Den Berg has tried to understand who was the first person in the country to create this connection.

According to Van Den Berg, in the Netherlands the patient zero of disinformation on the new coronavirus and 5G is “Rick”, a citizen of The Hague working at the Amsterdam Schiphol Airport as a baggage handler. With a Facebook post from the 26th of January, this user is the first one that has started to question this possible connection.

By simply pointing at a news article on the launch of 5G applications in Wuhan, published on the 31st of October 2019 by the Chinese News State agency Xinhuanet, Rick’s argument has started to gain tractions in the country. Since then, the connection between 5G and Covid-19 has started to spread virally in the Netherlands, and it has been also embraced by anti-5G activists like those of the Facebook Page “5G-Plein”.

As Van Den Berg points out, this kind of disinformation is particularly difficult to counteract because what has been shared by “Rick” – the article of Xinhuanet – is not a piece of disinformation per se. But the connection with Covid-19 made by users through this article is pretty misinformative.

Vaccines, 5G and Covid-19

The last example of disinformation on these issues regards the bogus connection that some users have made between the virus, 5G technology and vaccines.

According to some Facebook users, Covid-19 has been generated by 5G in order to create a vaccine that, instead of curing the disease, will actually be the occasion to implant electronic chips to control humanity.

A similar claim is also spreading in Finland, where some disinformation websites are saying that 5G changes the structure of people’s DNA, which will then cause the activation of Covid-19. Also, according to these people, citizens are now put in quarantine to be at a closer contact with 5G, given that cellphone towers are usually built close to towns and cities. However, as explained by many fact-checkers around the world there is no evidence that 5G or vaccines can in any way activate Covid-19, which is proved to be instead transmitted by respiratory droplets (such as those created by coughing).

Nevertheless, these conspiracy theories have been shared in the US, in Finland, in Poland and it is likely that they will soon pop-up in other countries around the world. That is why we ask you to use some healthy skepticism when you encounter these kind of news.

This article has been written by Pagella Politica with precious help from MimiKama (Austria), Peter Burger (Netherlands), Kamil Mikulski (Poland), Martti Asikainen and FaktaBaari (Finland).