One of this decade’s less savoury phenomena has been the rise of the viral conspiracy theory, where theories are disseminated as facts.
Admittedly, the COVID pandemic has made us all more paranoid and insecure than we were before, but some of its manifestations are frankly bizarre.
For instance, it’s claimed in some quarters that the coronavirus pandemic is a smokescreen enabling telecommunication companies to stealthily build 5G networks while we’re under lockdown.
Needless to say, the telecom companies disagree.
Fear is the key
Underpinning most 5G conspiracy theories is a simple claim – it’s dangerous.
Even before the pandemic, it was being suggested 5G was providing an opportunity for Bill Gates to somehow implant microchips (known as Antichrist chips) into people.
In 2018, a lamppost in Gateshead was attacked by someone who thought it was a 5G antenna.
Photos of engineers maintaining 4G mobile phone masts while wearing cleaning overalls have been misrepresented as 5G cell tower construction by people wearing hazmat outfits.
The unexplained death of starlings in a Dutch park several years ago was blamed on 5G testing, even though no such testing was taking place within 50 miles.
COVID-19 has merely exacerbated the phenomenon of conspiracy theories.
Today, Bill Gates is allegedly developing a nanochip to be inserted as into our bodies as part of the vaccine rollout, linked to our social media profiles and capable of controlling us via 5G.
The conspiracy theorists can’t (and rarely try to) explain how a microchip could fit through the tip of a needle, or how it could be used to effectively reprogram someone’s brain.
There are claims that 5G mobile phone signals actually transmit coronavirus symptoms, or create electromagnetic disturbances which interfere with the body’s immune system.
These claims gained particular traction in Bolivia, despite the absence of any 5G technology in the country.
Some of this is simply anti-American propaganda, with many theories originating in countries like Pakistan and Russia.
However, some people genuinely believe 5G poses a threat to our safety, without really understanding the science.
After all, 5G will simply be broadcast across different frequencies of the same GHz spectrum already harnessed by devices as diverse as baby monitors, WiFi and aeroplane radar.
There is no scientific evidence of any link between 5G and health risks, coronaviruses or anything else – just unproven claims and debunked theories.
Even so, the thought of high-speed data being carried through the ether across relatively underutilised portions of the GHz spectrum seems to instil fear into many people.
In the line of duty
Over the last year, disturbing stories about the real-world consequences of 5G conspiracy theories have regularly surfaced.
Openreach engineers (who have nothing to do with 5G networks) have been assaulted, attacked and in one case spat on by someone infected with COVID-19.
The engineer subsequently contracted COVID.
The ill-informed nature of these attacks is typified by the woman who blockaded an Openreach van because she thought its roof rack was a mobile 5G tower.
There have also been growing attacks on fibre optic and 4G infrastructure – the former carrying home broadband, and the latter used to relay emergency services calls.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before
Some 5G conspiracy theories regard any mobile telecommunications infrastructure as fair game, even if it’s part of a network that’s been operating innocuously for years or even decades.
Ironically, when people argue 5G waves can boil water, create cancer and damage mental health, these claims are themselves well-established.
Identical accusations were levelled against 3G a couple of decades earlier without ever being proved, and there is no evidence that any mobile communications pose a risk to health or safety.
Indeed, proof is something theorists rarely serve up in measurable quantities.
Their opinions are superior to your facts, and to suggest otherwise merely demonstrates your blind subservience to an establishment cover-up only they can see – or stop.
Sadly, the passage of time may be the only way to completely debunk the latest round of 5G conspiracy theories.