A significant number of people are concerned about 5G technology and believe it emits harmful radiation.
That’s a rational fear as the technology does emit some radiation at very low levels. What is irrational is the strange rumour that 5G can cause COVID-19. While some may see this as a ridiculous notion, it hasn’t stopped such rumours spreading as rapidly across the globe as COVID-19 itself.
Don’t believe me? Then why would the federal government feel the need to release a statement such as this?
“There is no link between 5G and COVID-19. 5G does not cause COVID-19,” said Australia’s chief medical officer, Professor Brendan Murphy.
“It does not spread COVID-19. Nor does it increase the severity of COVID-19 or make people more susceptible to COVID-19.
“The scientific evidence shows that wireless telecommunications, including 5G, do not weaken people’s immune systems and do not place us at higher risk of getting viruses such as COVID-19. You can find more information about this on the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency website.
“Turning off your wifi will not protect you from COVID-19. The best way you can protect yourself is to practise physical distancing and good hygiene, and to stay at home if you have any cold or flu-like symptoms.”
Sounds ridiculous, right?
It’s a rumour that has researchers scratching their heads and seeking to better understand how misinformation such as this spreads, so they can come up with ways to intervene and prevent such perspectives from getting a foothold in the community.
A research team investigated how COVID-19 misinformation proliferated by using the same epidemiological techniques for modelling disease transmission.
Led by Hariri Institute Faculty fellow Elaine Nsoesie, the team examined the spread of COVID-19 misinformation across eight English-speaking countries and recently published their findings in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.
The researchers focused on myths about relationships between COVID-19 and alcohol, ginger root, the sun, 5G and hydroxychloroquine.
They found that some COVID-19 misinformation, such as the 5G rumour, spread exponentially across the countries – much like the coronavirus itself.
“There was such a rapid proliferation of any information at the onset of the pandemic that misinformation had a golden opportunity to enter the public conscience,” said Nina Cesare, a postdoctoral associate at the BU School of Public Health.
While rapid online responses to rumours by World Health Organization (WHO) officials significantly reduced the number of Google searches for that misinformation within a short time, the team was surprised that there still seemed to be a consistent, global misunderstanding of 5G technology.
The “invented” relationship between COVID-19 and 5G spread faster than any of the other rumours they investigated.
“I didn’t expect 5G to stand out among the misinformation as much as it did,” said Ms Nsoesie.
Even more surprising is that 5G technology isn’t ‘new’; rather, it’s an evolution of existing communication technologies, like 4G, that should already have earned public trust.
“5G is the new standard for communication technology. It allows for faster communication by using different frequencies and multiple antennas,” said Professor David Starobinski, from Boston University’s department of electrical and computer engineering.
“It is an evolution of communication technology rather than a revolution”.
So, why do people believe it causes COVID-19?
For one, researchers blame the lack of transparency about communication technologies.
“I think the belief has something to do with a certain distrust in government and the ability to tie this narrative about 5G technology into conversations around government surveillance,” said Ms Cesare.
“This distrust is a concern even now, as myths around microchips being put into vaccines explode on Facebook.”
Some people might also worry that 5G technology emits invisible electromagnetic waves that could affect their health.
“People are much more worried about things [like radiation] that they cannot see,” said Prof. Starobinski.
“People have been using smartphones for years and we don’t see evidence that this radiation has caused noticeable increase in diseases or hospitalisations due to usage,” he added, noting that “regulators have set limits on the radiation power of 5G devices, though additional safety studies may still be warranted.”
Researchers want to assure the public that such radiation cannot cause COVID-19.
“COVID-19 is a viral disease that comes from the coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2,” they say.
And they’re calling on better transparency and more information from government bodies, tech companies, health organisations and researchers to prevent such misinformation from ever taking root.
“We [researchers] need to humanise the conversations around misinformation and continue to share true information so that misinformation becomes less prevalent in the media,” said Ms Nsoesie.
Had you heard the rumour that 5G could cause COVID-19? What was the most ridiculous rumour you heard about COVID-19? Do you worry about 5G at all? What are your concerns?
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