SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) – Phone masts that enable the next generation of wireless communication — 5G — are being set on fire in the United Kingdom, apparently by people motivated by a theory that 5G helps spread the coronavirus.
Last week, actor Woody Harrelson posted about the conspiracy theory on his Instagram, writing, “A lot of my friends have been talking about the negative effects of 5G.”
He added: “Though I haven’t fully vetted it I find it very interesting.”
The post has since been liked and shared more than 25,000 times.
Harrelson added more fuel to the fire by Instagramming a video showing Chinese campaigners attacking phone towers there. That video got more than 300,000 views.
The theory that faster 5G internet is either causing or accelerating the spread of the coronavirus is being shared widely on social media despite there being no evidence to support it.
A video of a telecom tower on fire was circulated on a Birmingham community website, and Facebook removed a group that apparently encouraged users to share photos and videos of equipment being destroyed, the Guardian reported.
Singer M.I.A. has also repeatedly tweeted about her concerns over 5G — recently saying that even if it does not cause the coronavirus, it “can confuse or slow the body down in healing process as body is learning to cope with new signals wavelength s frequency etc @ same time as Cov.”
“People in England are setting fire to it. They should just turn it off till after the pandemic!” she added.
Concerns about the possible links between 5G and cancer were already slowing the rollout of 5G in countries including Switzerland, Bloomberg Businessweek previously reported, despite a lack of scientific support for the claims.
Full Fact’s first debunking of the theory relied on a Facebook post which claimed Wuhan, China — where the coronavirus originated late last year — is also where 5G began to rollout.
The post rested on the pre-existing conspiracy theory that 5G suppresses people’s immune systems. It was posted to an anti-5G Facebook group, and was then marked by Facebook as misinformation.
As Full Fact points out in a more recent analysis of the conspiracy theory, the coronavirus outbreak has had a profound impact on countries with no 5G coverage, such as Iran.
The UK’s major telecommunication companies — EE, O2, Three and Vodafone — released a statement over the weekend calling the theories “baseless” and “harmful for the people and businesses that rely on the continuity of our services.”
On Sunday, Cabinet Minister Michael Gove called the theory “dangerous nonsense,” and the national medical director of NHS England Stephen Powis condemned it in even stronger terms.
In response to the circulating theories, some tech companies are taking action to crack down on the spread.
Facebook said that posts claiming a link between 5G and the coronavirus would be subject to “third-party fact checks.” Under the regulation, conspiracy theories are not banned on Facebook.
YouTube said it would remove videos linking 5G and the coronavirus.