Cell Towers Burn, Telecom Engineers Harassed as Conspiracy Spreads of COVID-19 and 5G Link

April 14, 2020 by Gary Elinoff

Amidst conspiracies that 5G perpetuates COVID-19, some telecom engineers are experiencing a backlash.

A new conspiracy theory has recently emerged holding 5G technology responsible for the rapid spread of COVID-19. This theory, though, has taken a dangerous turn. Believers of the 5G-COVID-19 link have, in some cases, burned and vandalized cell towers and harrassed telecommunication engineers across the UK and some countries in Europe.


Telecom tower sustains fire damage in Birmingham, England

Telecom tower sustains fire damage in Birmingham, England. Image used courtesy of Carl Recine (Reuters) published in The New York Times


Many of us assume the work of electrical engineers isn't inflammatory in nature, but it seems that this assumption may not always be correct. EEs design the world's most advanced technology and, at least in this scenario, they are experiencing a backlash from misinformed consumers about the implications of that technology. 


How 5G Misinformation Spread Faster Than the Virus

The spread of misinformation about 5G weakening the immune system or perpetuating the spread of COVID-19 has origins on social media and YouTube. 

An analysis conducted by the New York Times has uncovered 487 Facebook communities, 52 Twitter accounts, and 84 Instagram accounts promoting discussion about a 5G-COVID-19 connection. Over the past two weeks, the audience to this theory has increased by 58,00 followers on Instagram and by half a million followers on Facebook. 

In New York, Blackbird.AI monitors online disinformation campaigns. Naushad UzZaman, the company report’s CTO and co-founder, reports that there have been over 50,000 posts on the topic on Reddit and Twitter just within 24 hours. The “significant uptick in inauthentic amplification” of posts, according to UzZaman, may indicate bot accounts pushing this misinformation.


Strikes on Telecom Towers

The New York Times article (last revised on April 11, 2020) reports more than thirty acts of vandalism and arson on cell towers and other telecommunication equipment have taken place in Britain this month. Worse still, there have been more than eighty incidents reported in which telecom technicians have been personally harassed while on the job.


Damaged wires of a telecom tower burned in Birmingham.

Damaged wires of a telecom tower burned in Birmingham. Image used courtesy of Carl Recine (Reuters) published in The New York Times

The first reported incident occurred on April 2, 2020, when local officials found telecom equipment ablaze in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Since then, other acts of vandalism and arson have been reported in Liverpool and Birmingham, among other locations.


The Effect on Engineers

As reported in The Guardian, it’s gotten to the point that technicians installing cable-based broadband, which has nothing to do with cell service, let alone 5G specifically, are also taking the heat. In an incredible turn of events, broadband personnel have begun publishing pleas on the anti-5G Facebook pages to be left in peace as they work.

In his time of social distancing, greater demand is placed on telecom networks of all sorts, which we've discussed, in part, in an article on how COVID-19 is overburdening data centers


Two telecom employees lay fiber optics cables.

Two telecom employees lay fiber optics cables. Image used courtesy of Hadrian

According to Mobile UK, an industry lobby group (quoted in The Guardian), the continued spate of incidents and harassment are having negative effects on maintenance and on the continued connectivity vital for remote work and school. 


Telecom Companies React

In the New York Times article mentioned earlier, journalists Adam Satariano and Davey Alba report that threats against telecom employees and equipment are too widespread to ignore. BT Group, a telecom company based in London, reports at least eleven incidents of vandalism while Vodaphone reports more than fifteen incidents. The reporters explain that while these attacks incur major damage on existing telecom infrastructure, actual 5G equipment has been unaffected.

In a statement authored by EE (a division of BT Group), O2, Three, and Vodaphone, the four major UK telecom providers pointed out that “There is no scientific evidence of any link between 5G and coronavirus.”

The statement continues that the claims "have led to the abuse of our engineers and, in some cases, prevented essential network maintenance taking place." The statement concludes by reminding the public of the vital role of network connection and urges anyone who witnesses the abuse of telecom workers to report the incident to local authorities.



Have you ever experienced backlash because of a technology you took part in designing? Share your experience in the comments below.

  • D
    DavidBruce April 16, 2020

    It is regrettable that field workers cop the brunt of community anger on 5G. However, as a former electronics warfare engineer, I am concerned that 5G technology now incorporates miniature components of NexRad Doppler radars. This includes pulsed microwave transmissions and phased array beam focusing for cell phone communication. In addition, satellite and Wifi links are operating in the same bandwidth which area denial systems work for the military. The FCC is not qualified, not competent nor motivated to publish the hazards, risks and health effects of 5G. It has been proven electronic radiation, both ionising and non ionising can contribute to increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer. The 1996 Telecommunications Act in USA removed the EPA from monitoring environmental effects of EMF and gave the Telco’s the authority to sue businesses, community groups and governments who prevented implementation of the telco services. Can the FCC and the 5G Telcos publish for cell phone towers, a statement similar to that published by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology about the safety of Weather Radars?

    Are weather radars dangerous?

    No—because they use a beam that’s angled up into the sky and is constantly moving.

    Like. Reply
  • tikonen April 17, 2020

    5G conspiracy online is mostly engineered and pushed by Russia that knows the 5G is a major economical benefit for any country that deploys it widely. They see it as a yet another threat that widens the technological and economical gap between Europe and Russia. Russia is economically in bad shape and is not able to compete on equal grounds.

    Like. Reply
  • J
    JLambert April 17, 2020

    So many people in the world willing to “weigh in” or worst .. without nearly enough knowledge on the subject.
    “5G” is still being defined… each telco claiming their version of “5G” with a different band, pwr levels and differing technoloies.
    The marketing departments of telcos want to cash in on the latest / greatest “Generation” of communication technology.
    The industry has accepted the notion that the definition of “5G” can include wide range of frequencies (from 800 mhz to above 30 GHz), power levels and modulations. Any reviews of the impact on human health has never considered under such a wide range of conditions.
    In such a chaos, why would anyone expect the public to have a cohesive view and understanding on anything related to “5G”?
    Throw in the fears of a pandemic..  and you have all the ingredients required for senseless destruction and speculations.
    It doesn’t require any effort to create a conspiracy, it only requires people willing to propagate it.

    Like. Reply