Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 21 October 2019

5G conspiracy theories say high-speed network could kill birds and cause cancer

Anti-5G activists have taken to social media, blogs and YouTube to make false claims

As 5G gets introduced across the world, there has been an uptick in conspiracy theories about the super fast network. AFP/VALERY HACHE
As 5G gets introduced across the world, there has been an uptick in conspiracy theories about the super fast network. AFP/VALERY HACHE

There has been a surge in conspiracy theories around the introduction of 5G internet on mobile phones, with activists saying the network could cause cancer or kill birds.

Anti-5G activists have taken to social media, forums and blogs, blaming it for a range of ills. Some conspiracy theories say the network can cause sterility or death.

And videos referring to “the 5G apocalypse” have gained traction on YouTube.

“There have been many Facebook groups that have opposed to 5G, mostly on health grounds – like it kills trees or birds,” Alastair Coleman, of the BBC Monitoring Disinformation Team, told The National.

“The conspiracy theories are also appearing in comments about mobile phone networks. I even saw one in a local street lights group."

Despite all of the theories, there is no substantial evidence that 5G or any other mobile communication network can be detrimental to human health.

“Some people have expressed concern that living, working, or going to school near a cell phone tower might increase the risk of cancer or other health problems," the American Cancer Society has said.

"At this time, there is very little evidence to support this idea.”

The World Health Organisation says “current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low-level electromagnetic fields.”

A spokesman for British fact-checking organisation Full Fact told The National: "There has been a lot of misinformation around the implementation of 5G in recent months, including the false rumour that those installing it will have to wear hazmat suits and the unsubstantiated claim that 5G kills trees.

"This seems related to previous fears when mobile phones first gained popularity that their use in general causes cancer. Evidence has shown this is unlikely.

"This kind of misinformation can cause unnecessary public worry and so it’s important that public bodies provide clear, accessible resources for the general public on issues like this so they can distinguish between genuine and non-existent health risks."

Other conspiracy theories around 5G do not relate to health. There are many posts on Twitter saying that Israel was not planning to adopt 5G, despite being one of the countries behind its development.

But a spokesman from the Israeli Ministry of Communications said on July 2 that the country planned to launch the network within two weeks.

Delegates at the Global Media Freedom Conference in London on Wednesday said that the conspiracy theories seem to be mainly from English-speaking countries.

But one delegate said that this might be because English-speaking countries are likely to have access to the super-fast internet first.

In April this year, South Korea claimed to beat the US to become the first country to roll out a super-fast 5G mobile network, which allows users to download entire movies almost instantly.

Fears about radio wave radiation have been around for decades. In the 1980 and 1990s, there were concerns that high-voltage power lines and mobile phones could cause cancer.

As of June 2019, Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company, the company behind du, had 120 5G towers in the UAE and is set to add 580 more by the end of the year, providing coverage to every populated area of the country.

The 5G wireless networks will be up to 100 times faster than the 4G network used by more than 3.6 billion mobile internet users around the world.

Updated: July 15, 2019 09:55 AM

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