Vandals strike U.K. towers, prompting GSMA to reiterate no link between 5G and coronavirus

U.K. operators and government officials condemned acts of violence by those wrongfully linking 5G to COVID-19 after vandals set fire to the very infrastructure that is keeping people connected during the pandemic.

Fires were set in several locations over the past few days, including in the cities of Liverpool and Birmingham. EE said that one tower in Birmingham didn’t even provide 5G services but was set on fire anyway, The Verge reported.  

“Not only are these claims baseless, they are harmful for the people and businesses that rely on the continuity of our services. They have also led to the abuse of our engineers and, in some cases, prevented essential network maintenance taking place,” said Vodafone UK, EE, O2 and Three UK in a joint statement.

Various theories wrongly link the virus to 5G and they’ve been shared on social media, including by celebrities. According to The Verge, one theory claims that the novel coronavirus originated in Wuhan because the Chinese city had recently been rolling out 5G. Some theories say the quarantine facilitates the rollout of 5G while schools are closed. 

“We must unite in the global fight against COVID-19 and combat the fake news and violent actions linking 5G communications technology to the spread of the virus,” the GSMA said in a statement. “This disinformation campaign is inciting fear, aggression, and vandalism against the critical infrastructure and essential maintenance workers who are keeping our public services connected, as well as our economy running.”

National Medical Director of NHS England Stephen Powis called it the “worst kind of fake news.”

The reality is that “the mobile phone networks are absolutely critical to all of us, particularly in a time when we are asking people to stay at home and to not see relatives and friends,” he said. “But in particular, those are also the phone networks that are used by our emergency services and our health workers, and 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.”

The GSMA is calling on internet giants, content providers and social media platforms to accelerate their efforts to remove fake news linking 5G to the spread of COVID-19. 

The Guardian reported on Sunday that YouTube pledged to actively reduce the amount of content spreading conspiracy theories about links between 5G technology and coronavirus that it recommends to users.

In a statement provided to Fierce, YouTube said it’s committed to providing timely and helpful information at this critical time, including raising authoritative content, reducing the spread of harmful misinformation and showing information panels, using NHS and WHO data, to help combat misinformation.

In addition: “We have also begun reducing recommendations of borderline content such as conspiracy theories related to 5G and coronavirus, that could misinform users in harmful ways,” a YouTube spokesperson said. “We’ll continue to evaluate the impact of these videos on the UK community and look forward to continuing our work with the UK Government and the NHS to keep the British public safe and informed during this difficult time.”

GSMA also points out that the UK’s independent fact-checking charity has confirmed there is no link between 5G and COVID-19, urging governments around the world to take swift action against disinformation, vandalism and threats against mobile network field engineers.

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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,” said Mats Granryd, director general of the GSMA. “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.”

According to the GSMA, an independent international watchdog last month confirmed there is no risk of harm to people, including children, from exposure to radio frequencies from mobile networks, including 5G. In its findings, the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection reviewed 20 additional years of research and echoed previous reassurances from the World Health Organization.  

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Misinformation about 5G has been a problem for the industry for some time and follows similar claims about prior generations of wireless technologies. CTIA points out the FCC regulates RF emissions, including millimeter waves from 5G devices and equipment, and has adopted the recommendations of expert scientific organizations that have reviewed the science, including dozens of studies focused specifically on millimeter waves, and established safe exposure levels.