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