It will likely surprise no one to learn that a wild conspiracy theory linking the novel coronavirus pandemic to 5G wireless networks has its roots in, among other places, QAnon. Unfortunately, it seems some celebrities and influencers have nonetheless taken the bait—and some British citizens have begun to burn down cell towers.
Scientists have debunked the notion that any link exists between the coronavirus pandemic and 5G networks. Nonetheless, celebrities including Woody Harrelson have shared conspiracies that claim just that. Days ago, the Cheers and Zombieland actor shared a post he conceded he hadn’t “fully vetted” on Instagram linking the novel coronavirus outbreak to the installation of 5G networks in Wuhan, China. That same day Harrelson also posted a video of last year’s Hong Kong protests with the erroneous caption, “Meanwhile the Chinese are bringing 5g antennas down.”
But it’s not just Harrelson. Singer M.I.A.—whose paranoia about 5G dates back at least to last year—stoked fears again in March. “I don't think 5G gives you COVID19,” she wrote at one point. “I think 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.”
“Last pandemic came with radio waves,” she wrote in another tweet. “Now 5G.The shift is not easy.”
In multiple tweets the singer also railed against continued construction of 5G networks amid the outbreak. “WHY ARE THEY STILL WORKING. ??” she wrote. “I'm not feeling well and my symptoms match the 5G symptoms. if they don't stop we are not staying at home!!”
Paranoia surrounding 5G has been building for a while. For years, various corners of the internet have obsessed over conspiracies that these mobile networks will cause a variety of health ailments ranging from cancer to sterility. Holistic-living influencers including Rose Uncharted have stoked fears about the networks’ purported dangers. Even the guy who installed my internet spent several minutes explaining the theories to me as we waited for the lights on my router to flash.
The U.K., it seems, has become a hotbed for 5G conspiracy theories. A recent, excellent article by BuzzFeed charting the spread of these theories notes that within the past five years, a majority of the most-shared Facebook links spreading 5G conspiracies were all published in the past year. Around that same time, BuzzFeed notes, British telecom company EE announced a 5G expansion across the United Kingdom.
Russia’s RT America has stoked fear around the “5G Apocalypse” for a while now—and as The New York Times warned in a report on the subject last May, the network is “known for sowing disinformation.” Another petri dish where these apocalyptic fantasies have blossomed? According to BuzzFeed’s report, QAnon.
And now it seems those theories have hit the mainstream—with celebrities on both sides of the pond falling for the bunk science. Georgian singer Keri Hilson landed in hot water weeks ago for sharing the theory. (When asked by a fan what she thought of the criticism Hilson had faced, M.I.A. piped up, “We need more tests!!! How do you Prove its not bad for us? 5G def ain't the antivirus protection i need rn. Toilet roll seems to be the thing.”) And as writer Dean Sterling Jones recently noted, Goop contributor Habib Sadeghi has expressed his belief that every pandemic for the last 15o years can be linked back to the “electrification of earth.” (He’s not the first Goop expert to push absurd coronavirus conspiracy theories, either.)
These theories are already doing real damage. In recent days, scared citizens in the U.K. have set 5G towers ablaze; when The Verge spoke with a representative for Vodaphone UK, four separate towers had been lit on fire in a 24-hour period.
It bears repeating: There is no proven link between 5G and negative health effects or the novel coronavirus pandemic.