With the spread of conspiracy theories online that put link the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in the United Kingdom to 5G mobile technology, a number of cell towers in the country have been set on fire and engineers harassed.
A spokesperson for the British carrier Vodafone told the media on Monday that four of its mobile phone masts were attacked in the last 24 hours. It was however unclear whether those four sites were used for 5G.
The video footage of a mast torched in the English city of Birmingham was widely circulated online last week. Engineers of the BT Group are currently trying to find out the cause of the fire, the company said, and added that it was “likely” to be a case of arson. The company said that they would be working with the local authorities to identify a culprit. The tower was not a 5G mast.
“This site served thousands of people in the Birmingham area, providing vital 2G, 3G and 4G connectivity as it has done for many years,” a spokesperson for the company told the media. “We will try to restore full coverage as quickly as possible, but the damage caused by the fire is significant.”
A video clip showing a woman harassing telecoms engineers laying 5G fiber-optic cables was also circulated widely on Twitter. While claiming to know why the engineers are working, the woman claimed that the technology “kills people.”
Numerous posts suggesting that 5G, the fifth generation of mobile internet, was responsible for the coronavirus outbreak were found freely on Facebook. Many of the arguments on such bogus posts claimed that the origin of the novel coronavirus in the Chinese city of Wuhan was because of the deployment of 5G networks last year.
There are however no evidence to lend any support to the arguments of such posts on the social media. There are many places where the disease have caused infections but where there are no 5G infrastructure yet, pointed out British fact-checking charity Full Fact. However such areas have been among the hardest-hit.
The 5G conspiracy theories were described as “dangerous nonsense” by British minister Michael Gove on Saturday. They were “the worst kind of fake news,” said Stephen Powis, national medical director for England.
“I’m absolutely outraged, absolutely disgusted, that people would be taking action against the very infrastructure that we need to respond to this health emergency,” said Powis. “It is absolute and utter rubbish.”
Discussions over the spread of disinformation about 5G and COVID-19 are set to be held with social media companies this week by Britain’s culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, said reports quoting government sources.
“We have received several reports of criminal damage to phone masts and abuse of telecoms engineers apparently inspired by crackpot conspiracy theories circulating online. Those responsible for criminal acts will face the full force of the law,” the spokesperson said.
“We must also see social media companies acting responsibly and taking much swifter action to stop nonsense spreading on their platforms which encourages such acts. The Culture Secretary is meeting with companies this week to discuss this.”
(Adapted from the CNBC.com)