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How to have a conversation with someone who believes 5G is the cause of COVID-19.

As COVID-19 spreads around the globe, infecting 4.7 million and killing more than 300,000, conspiracy theories are also growing – spreading dangerous misinformation to people who are already anxious and uncertain about the future.

The latest and perhaps most pervasive conspiracy theory to emerge focuses on 5G, and its connection to the current coronavirus pandemic. In recent weeks, search terms like ‘is 5G safe,’ ‘5G health effects,’ and ‘5G radiation coronavirus,’ have spiked, as the theory makes its way into the mainstream.

A quick search on Facebook and you’ll find hundreds of groups and thousands of followers discussing and dissecting the symptoms of coronavirus, and describing it as ‘5G poisoning’. Some of the groups go as far as to say that every major health epidemic in the last century has been linked to increases in radio waves from telecommunications – from the Spanish flu in 1918 to SARS in 2003.

Let’s take a deeper look into what 5G actually is, and consider whether there’s any validity to the theory that it’s somehow related to COVID-19.

What is 5G?

You’ll all be familiar with ‘3G’ and ‘4G’ and the fact that 4G is far better quality than its predecessor.

5G is the next upgrade, and it was created because we’re still using the same radio frequency bands we’ve been using since before smartphones were as advanced as they are now.

5G uses millimetre waves on a higher frequency between 30 and 300 gigahertz and will be about 60 times faster than 4G.

Satellite operators and radar systems already utilise this space, but it does have its limitations. It can’t, for example, travel though buildings very well and they [the waves] can be absorbed by trees and rain.

So in order to allow 5G to exist in this space, more antenna are needed in closer proximity – which is what’s happening now around Australia and the world.

Where did the 5G conspiracy theories start?

Anti-5G conspiracists aren’t new. When the Australian 5G rollout was announced in May last year, the voices of those who questioned its safety came in thick and fast.

A video by activist Jessie Reimers was shared tens of thousands of times, claiming that the 5G network had “cancer causing properties”.

Reimer’s video told us the idea that “radio frequency radiation is harmful to living organisms was formed from a literature base of over 10,000 peer reviewed studies”.

As Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, one of Australia’s most well-known science commentators told The Quicky back in July, “All of those statements are incorrect. By piling all of these things together you give the impression that there’s a whole heap of peer reviewed literature proving radiation causes cancer and has bad health effects and the straight answer is – no.”

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LISTEN: To The Quicky debunk the 5G is unsafe theory. Post continues after podcast.

Dr Kruszelnicki has read every single one of the studies and says that they are “odd” and “don’t get consistent results”.

The idea seems to be also fuelled by the World Health Organisation in 2011 classifying all radio frequency emissions as a ‘possible carcinogen’. But it’s important to put this into perspective.

Pickles and Aloe Vera also make this list.

Australian activists also claim the safety body setting the standards are getting financial gain from 5G.

The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) has confirmed to Mamamia that’s simply not the case.

“We receive 50 per cent of our revenue from government appropriation and the remainder through our own forced revenue, which include cost recovery arrangements for our regulatory services and other service activities that we undertake. ARPANSA doesn’t receive any funding from industry be that the telecommunication industry or any other industry,” said Dr Gillian Hirth.

What’s happening now?

According to SBS, new polling shows that one in eight Australians believe coronavirus is linked to 5G.

The survey of 1,073 people also found that one in eight Australians believe Microsoft founder Bill Gates is somehow responsible for COVID-19.

The survey comes following a number of small protests in Australia, led by conspiracy theorists.

In May, dozens gathered at Victoria’s state parliament to protest against 5G, vaccinations, and what they called the “coronavirus conspiracy”. The protestors were also heard chanting “arrest Bill Gates”, in response to a bizarre conspiracy theory which connects the billionaire to the pandemic.

Interest in 5G in Australia seems to have initially spiked from a WhatsApp voice note, which claims self isolation is a ploy to install 5G towers.

People are scared, and they’re looking for answers – so they’re getting sucked into the fear-mongering message.

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Wuhan, it turns out, was one of the first places to trial 5G (alongside the Chinese centres of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou).

It’s also where COVID-19 was first identified back in December 2019.

Coincidence? Yes, yes it is.

Videos coming out of the UK showing mobile phone masts on fire have also been widely circulated, further fuelling the conspiracy as radicals of the cause start to lash out.

coronavirus 5G
Here you can see the recent spike in Australia in regards to 5G. Image: Google Trends.

Adding even more fuel to the fire, the BBC technology desk says two more theories were reported in The Daily Star in March: that 5G suppresses the immune system, and that the virus uses the network's radio waves to communicate with victims.

Both are untrue. But the tabloid newspaper reaches hundreds of thousands of people – who might now be buying into the 5G COVID-19 conspiracy theory.

Then we add in the celebrity push power.

TV personality Amanda Holden is just one of the people with a huge audience pushing a scare-mongering petition in the UK (for the government to say no to 5G), posting on Twitter to her nearly two million followers. She now says her tweet was an "accident".

Amanda Holden
Amanda Holden is among the celebrities spreading misinformation. Image: Getty.
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Pete Evans, the former judge/host of cooking competition show, My Kitchen Rules, has published several bizarre posts about COVID-19 conspiracy theories on Instagram in recent weeks.

Evans recently posted a link to a video in which British conspiracy theorist David Icke refers to the current health crisis as “a fake pandemic with no virus” and ties COVID-19 infections to 5G antennas. (If that name sounds familiar, that's likely because he's the man who alleged that the world is secretly run by giant, shape-shifting lizards.)

Similarly, actor Woody Harrelson has used his Instagram platform to spread misinformation about 5G and COVID-19.

American rapper Wiz Khalifa, singer Keri Hilson, British rapper M.I.A, and actor John Cusack are just some of the other big names sprouting the conspiracy theory to their followers and fans.

What should I say to my loved one who thinks COVID-19 is linked to 5G?

Okay, so now you know where all of this is coming from, it's time to arm you with some retorts.

Let's start with a really simple one:

Wuhan has lots of 5G...

Yes, China has more than 100,000 5G towers.

But South Korea was in fact the first country to commercially launch 5G - and they've been overtaken by Iran in terms of coronavirus cases (and this is just one example), which has absolutely no 5G in its country at all.

In fact, Iran has among the highest COVID-19 death tolls in the world.

But the WHO says it's a possible carcinogen?

Yeah, and they also said this: "a large number of studies have been performed over the last two decades to assess whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk. To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use."

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The WHO also noted that only a few studies had been carried out on the frequencies used by 5G, but "provided that the overall exposure remains below international guidelines, no consequences for public health are anticipated".

As the BBC explains, the radio waves in 5G are less powerful than visible light. They're on the low frequency end of the electromagnetic spectrum, whereas things like the sun's rays and medical X-rays sit at the high end.

To pop another source in there, the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection - a non-for-profit based in Germany - have also rebutted all 5G health claims. 

But everyone is talking about it. 

If you click on something on social media that tells you 5G caused coronavirus, you will be fed more of this content.

Facebook's algorithm will feed you more of the stuff you're interacting with, sharing and liking - so if you're interacting with posts about 5G, they'll multiply.

There's also (thanks to the celebrities and publications re-circulating the untruths) a lot of it floating around right now, so it's being shared more amongst friend groups, families and co-workers.

So it might feel like it's everywhere, but in the wider scheme of things, it's just... not.

In fact, YouTube has now vowed to start removing this kind of content from its platform, with calls for other sharing platforms to do the same.

And if all of that fails, here are some quotes from the experts for you to reel out:

"There is no sensible link between the use of 5G frequencies and COVID-19 or any other biological virus or bacteria. This sort of conjecture only contributes to the risk to individuals who are prepared to believe such non-science as opposed to the considerable efforts being made by medical science to enable the population to protect themselves in an informed manner," Professor Malcolm Sperrin, Director of the Department of Medical Physics and Clinical Engineering, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, told Science Direct.

"The marriage of conspiracy theory and pandemics has a long history, and the resurgence of anti-5G at this time is unsurprising, there's a sense of sad inevitability about this stuff," Chris Fleming, Associate Professor in the School of Humanities at Western Sydney University and author of Modern Conspiracy: The Importance of Being Paranoid, told the ABC.

"These notions are complete rubbish. The idea that 5G lowers your immune system doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Your immune system can be dipped by all sorts of things - by being tired one day or not having a good diet. Those fluctuations aren't huge but can make you more susceptible for catching viruses. 5G is nowhere near strong enough to heat people up to have any meaningful effect," Dr Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, told BBC.

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"The telecoms industry is working around the clock to keep vital health, education and emergency services online, businesses running, and friends and families connected. It is deplorable that critical communications infrastructure is being attacked based on outright mistruths. We urge everyone to trust health authorities and rest assured communications technology is safe. There is no link between 5G and COVID-19," Mats Granryd, the director general of the GSMA, the global communications industry body, told The Guardian.

We are in the middle of a pandemic.

Tensions are high, emotions are higher and fear is everywhere. As Associate Professor Fleming says, uprisings over unrelated conspiracies aren't a surprising counter effect to the environment we're currently living in.

But the sooner they're quashed, the sooner we can get back to what's important here - containing and controlling COVID-19, the highly contagious respiratory virus that's spreading from human-to-human and taking over life as we know it.

Feature Image: Getty.

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