Some utterly bizarre theories about Covid-19 and 5G have sprung up on social media. PAT PILCHER explains how to spot fake conspiracy theories.
With the world embroiled in a major pandemic, bizarre rumours have surfaced about the origins and causes of Covid-19. The weirdest theory of all and one that’s being embraced by the tinfoil hat brigade – is that 5G networks caused the coronavirus pandemic. That the not so minor issue of creating a virus using radio energy is only possible in Star Trek seems to have wholly escaped these conspiracy theorists.
Having a laugh at these ill-informed catastrophists is one thing, but anti-5G protestors have vandalised phone towers across New Zealand. They have also damaged a 4G cell site on private farmland at Waiharara, which is part of the Rural Broadband Initiative. In a video that got posted to Facebook, a man in Auckland filmed himself pouring fuel over the cables of an under-construction cell site. His mate can be heard muttering “Fuck 5G” and “Fuck the New World Order” as the two drive off. Facebook removed the video.
Aside from the fact that these chaps don’t know the difference between 4G and 5G cell sites, these acts are also incredibly irresponsible. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that this puts innocent people in danger. Mobile phones are sometimes the only communication available for those needing help in an emergency.
Unsurprisingly, the whole sorry saga started on social media. Prominent Twitter users, including an American singer with 4.2 million followers, sent tweets that linked Covid-19 to 5G. Clearly, being a singer qualified this person to comment on both epidemiology and physics.
“Clearly, being a singer qualified this person to comment on both epidemiology and physics”
They wrote: “People have been trying to warn us about 5G for YEARS. Petitions, organisations, studies…what we’re going thru is the (sic) effects of radiation. 5G launched in CHINA. Nov 1, 2019. People dropped dead”.
It wasn’t just the ill-conceived ramblings of a lamentably confused singer, either. Actor Woody Harrelson also jumped onto social media to give his 5G reckons, and shared an anti 5G article in an Instagram post.
The effect of ill-informed posts from celebs and nutters alike, and aimed at an unsuspecting audience, is akin to throwing petrol on an already raging bonfire. YouTube and Facebook are awash with anti-5G/anti-vaccination crackpots who are reposting or adding these claims to their own crazy theories for added credibility.
While a brief respite from this madness came from both YouTube and Facebook, who said they’d remove 5G-coronavirus hoax posts, I can’t help but feel that the damage has already been done. Cray-cray 5G coronavirus conspiracy theories continue to pop-up online.
“Why let critical thinking, let alone a little thing called facts, get in the way?”
Getting some of these wacky works of fiction taken down can’t happen soon enough. Some must be heard to be believed. I’ve had people tell me 5G signals activate nanoparticles in the Coronavirus and that this is what is killing people. Too bad countries with no 5G also happen to be recording record numbers of Coronavirus fatalities. But hey, why let critical thinking, let alone a little thing called facts, get in the way of something you’ve concocted that could make you internet famous?
Here’s the thing. As I’ve already written, there is no proven link between 5G and people getting cancer – or any other illnesses. 5G does not give you cancer, it won’t shrink your John Thomas, and you cannot make viruses out of radio signals. There are also no nanoparticles in Covid-19. As the virus doesn’t subscribe to any mobile plans, activating these non-existent nanoparticles using 5G mobile networks simply isn’t possible.
So, what sparked these conspiracy theories? Concerns appeared to spring up around a variant of 5G spectrum in the millimetre wave range. It runs on a very high-frequency radio spectrum, so its signals can’t travel long distances. Because of this, more cell towers are needed in more locations.
As most of the public are not radio engineers, nor are they au fait with the physics of electro-magnetic radio spectrum, it wasn’t long before some conflated harmless non-ionising radiation from radio waves with deadly ionising radiation (like what you’d typically find at Chernobyl).
“5G does not give you cancer, it won’t shrink your John Thomas, and you cannot make viruses out of radio signals”
Add to this, the ability to post their own misinformed theories on social media where they can spread, and tinfoil hats and underpants soon became a thing. We’re now up to our necks in posts saying 5G generates harmful radiation, and that it causes brain cancer, will shrink your bollocks, give you headaches and cause an all-round lousy day for anyone who happens to be nearby.
The sad thing is that this is being driven by a small number of crackpots seeking speaking engagements, media coverage and internet fame. These silly theories gain credibility because the general public doesn’t know otherwise, and predictably, some uncritically accept 5G conspiracy theories at face value.
A big question in my mind is this: Why does Joe or Joanne public seem to go batshit crazy over these improbable conspiracy theories? If I walked up to strangers in the street saying 5G is activating nanoparticles in the Coronavirus to kill people, I’d be given a one-way trip to a padded room and psych medication. Yet here we are, surrounded by theories that are not only bonkers but are also seen as credible to a growing number of people.
According to the Harvard University Summer School, one of the reasons seemingly rational people embrace these bogus theories is confirmation bias. This is where people tend to accept information that both conform with and confirms their own beliefs.
“Some conflated harmless non-ionising radiation from radio waves with deadly ionising radiation”
Given the media horror stories of tech companies such as Cambridge Analytica, it isn’t too surprising that people are more than a little dubious about technology. Because of this, some may also be receptive to 5G conspiracy theories.
The alarming thing about all this is that false information can have serious consequences. A classic example is the insanity that was the pizzagate conspiracy. One person decided to “self-investigate” and armed himself with an assault rifle. He arrived at the Comet pizza place and fired a shot, which thankfully didn’t hit anyone. Someone could have easily been killed. Gun nuts and conspiracy theories are a toxic mix.
So how to sort the factual wheat from the conspiracy chaff? Following these simple steps can help you quickly decide if something is the mad rantings of a lunatic or genuinely useful information.
Check Out The Publisher: If the information is on a website, ask yourself if the site is what it says it is. A common tactic for garnering credibility is to use counterfactual branding, posing as a scientific-sounding foundation or research institute. Another commonly used tactic is to pose as a university. This is done using dodgy domain names such as “.com.co.” with a second-level domain such as “XYZuniversity”. This takes advantage of the fact that few people ever bother to check that the domain says “XYZuniversity.com”. Often, the dodgy site has also been designed to appear like the legit organisation they’re passing themselves off as.
“If the information is on a website, ask yourself if the site is what it says it is”
Additionally, have a read of the website’s “About Us”, and if there is none (a red flag in itself), try googling them. Doing so could help you gain insight into what they stand for and what others have made of them. Double-check to make sure you’re not reading a satirical news site, such as The Onion (which happens more often than you’d think).
If you’re looking at content on social media, take a closer look at the author. What sort of comments have they posted previously? Have they published anything elsewhere? Do they appear in any reputable publications? Check out their social media history. Anyone can pose as anyone online, so celebrities writing for obscure sites should be treated with more than a little suspicion.
Content Quality: Another sure-fire sign of a bogus site/post is the quality of the content. Is the writing logical, or is it riddled with spelling errors, poor grammar and sloppy punctuation? Most reputable media outlets proof and subedit content before publishing.
Sources And References: Have any experts been quoted? Where are they from, and what are they saying? Do their quotes line up with the organisation the expert represents? Are the quotes consistent with what they have said elsewhere? Made-up quotes or a complete lack of expert opinions and/or referenced sources could mean the content is dodgy. When espousing a complex concept, journalists will typically quote experts on the subject matter or source information from reputable organisations. A lack of expert quotes and references could point to a lack of facts and a festering pile of flyblown conspiracy theory Turd Nutella™. Also, do other sites agree with the opinions expressed? If not, then it is probable that the jury is still out on the credibility of this information.
“Have any experts been quoted? Where are they from, and what are they saying?”
Fact Checks: Last, but by no means least, check out SNOPES, FactCheck.org, the International Fact-Checking Network, and PolitiFact.com. Chances are that they’ve already put in the hard yards and dug up the conspiracy McNuggets you’ve got doubts about.
Hopefully, these tips will help you keep the conspiracy nutters at bay. Good luck!