The top four UK mobile operators have issued a joint statement asking for help to stop people burning 5G towers. Multiple cell towers were targeted in the UK last week in apparent arson attacks, after online conspiracy theories have been falsely linking the spread of the coronavirus pandemic to the roll out of 5G. There’s no scientific evidence to suggest a link, but the theories have been spreading widely on social networks like Facebook and Nextdoor.
“Not only are these claims baseless, they are harmful for the people and businesses that rely on the continuity of our services,” says a joint statement from EE, o2, Three, and Vodafone. “They have also led to the abuse of our engineers and, in some cases, prevented essential network maintenance taking place.”
All of the main UK networks are now calling on people to help stop the spread of disinformation online, and to report abuse of key workers helping to maintain networks. “Please help us to make this stop,” the networks ask in a typically British-natured way. “If you witness abuse of our key workers please report it. If you see misinformation, please call it out.”
Vodafone confirmed to the The Verge that four cell towers were targeted in a 24-hour period on Friday. EE said that one tower in Birmingham didn’t even provide 5G services but was set on fire anyway. The UK government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) has branded the conspiracy theories “crackpot” and called on social networks to do more to stop them spreading.
The UK’s culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, is also planning to hold virtual meetings with representatives from a number of tech companies this week to discuss the problem. YouTube revealed at the weekend that it’s reducing the number of videos it recommends which spread false claims that 5G is linked to the coronavirus.
Mobile networks in the UK are classified as critical national infrastructure, and the attacks come at a crucial time as the UK battles the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Vodafone CEO Nick Jeffrey called the attacks a “matter of national security,” and pleaded with people not to share the fake conspiracy theories.