British 5G towers are being set on fire because of coronavirus conspiracy theories

A 5G cell tower
Photo by Mikhail Pochuyev\TASS via Getty Images

5G phone masts are being set alight in the UK, after online conspiracy theories have misleadingly linked the cell towers to the coronavirus pandemic. The BBC reports that at least three 5G towers were set alight within the last week, and police and fire services were called to extinguish the flames.

A Vodafone UK spokesperson confirmed to The Verge that four cell towers were targeted in the past 24 hours. Police have now launched investigations into how the 5G towers caught fire. At least one tower in Birmingham, operated by EE, doesn’t even provide 5G services but was still set on fire.

“Our engineers are assessing the cause of the fire at one of our towers in Birmingham. If it transpires that it was arson, which looks likely at this time, then we will work to help West Midlands police identify a culprit,” says an EE spokesperson. “This site served thousands of people in the Birmingham area, providing vital 2G, 3G and 4G connectivity as it has done for many years. We will try to restore full coverage as quickly as possible, but the damage caused by the fire is significant.”

Videos have been shared on Facebook of 5G towers burning.

Rumors and conspiracy theories over a link between the roll out of 5G and the spread of coronavirus have been spread primarily through social media networks. A variety of groups exist on Facebook and Nextdoor, where thousands of members repeat false and misleading claims that 5G is supposedly harmful.

One theory claims that the novel coronavirus originated in Wuhan because the Chinese city had recently been rolling out 5G. It’s now supposedly spread to other cities that are also using 5G. These false conspiracy theories neglect to mention that a highly contagious virus would naturally spread more in densely populated cities with access to 5G, and that the coronavirus pandemic has hit counties like Iran and Japan where 5G isn’t in use yet.

There is no scientific evidence that links the coronavirus pandemic to 5G, nor any immediate negative health effects to 5G. Full Fact, an independent fact checking charity in the UK, has explored the claims after a British tabloid newspaper highlighted them recently. 5G uses a higher frequency of radio waves than 4G or 3G, but regulators in the UK have recorded 5G electromagnetic radiation levels well below international guidelines.

This hasn’t stopped these wild conspiracy theories from spreading, though. Some people are even harassing workers laying fiber optic cables for 5G installations, claiming that when 5G is turned on it’s going to “kill everyone.”

UK operators now believe the attacks are undermining the nation’s security. “I’m saddened today to report that vandals have carried out a series of arson attacks on mobile phone masts during this time of national crisis,” says Vodafone UK CEO Nick Jeffery. “This is now a matter of national security. Police and counter terrorism authorities are investigating.”

The apparent arson attacks have clearly caused significant damage that will affect services in Birmingham, just as emergency services at the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is relying on mobile networks. “I’m absolutely outraged and disgusted that people would be taking action against the infrastructure we need to tackle this emergency,” said NHS director Stephen Powis at a daily UK coronavirus briefing.

The UK government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) branded the conspiracy theories “crackpot,” noting that it received reports of criminal damage to phone masts and abuse of telecoms engineers. DCMS is calling on social media networks to control the spread of misinformation. “We must also see social media companies acting responsibly and taking much swifter action to stop nonsense spreading on their platforms which encourages such acts.”

Mobile networks are classified as critical national infrastructure in the UK, but one Facebook group was specifically set up to encourage people to burn 5G towers. Peter Clarke, a mobile networks infrastructure expert in the UK, reported the group to Facebook but the company initially failed to remove it. After an increase in attention, the group has since been removed, but many others are still available with false information and thousands of people encouraging others to burn 5G towers down.

UK regulator Ofcom also warned Uckfield FM, a community radio station, this week for featuring someone with “potentially harmful statements about the coronavirus.” A guest, identified as a “registered nurse,” appeared in a 20-minute segment in February, claiming that 5G is sucking the oxygen out of people’s lungs. The segment also spread the falsehood that 5G and coronavirus are linked. Clips of the radio show have been widely shared on Facebook ever since.

Like many conspiracy theories and disinformation campaigns, Russia may well be at the heart of the 5G health scares. While a large number of Facebook groups have been fueling these theories recently, a New York Times report from last year warned that Russian disinformation campaigns were actively exploiting 5G health fears. RT America, a Russian government-funded TV network, aired a report more than a year ago in which an RT reporter claimed 5G “might kill you.”

These are the types of nonsensical warnings we’re now starting to see on Facebook, and they’re clearly convincing enough to lead some to damage vital national infrastructure. All of this is occurring just as the UK and many countries across the world are battling the coronavirus pandemic. While medical professionals are busy fighting a highly contagious virus, telecoms workers and social media networks are having to fight an equally destructive viral spread of stupidity online.

Update, April 5th 1:30PM ET: Added statements from EE, Vodafone, and the UK’s DCMS.


Words fail me.

My thought exactly.

On the positive side, I’m impressed at the ingenuity of the people who managed to get that cell tower to burn, considering it must be mostly made of metal.
Now if we could only put that ingenuity to some kind of productive use we’d be golden.

humans can be such fools.

By definition, 50% of the population has an IQ below 100, and 15% has an IQ below 65…. care to guess how IQ correlates with "5G causes coronavirus" belief?

It really has nothing to do with IQ. Perhaps you should also stop spreading misinformation.

Please explain why there’s no correlation with IQ, or intelligence in general.

It all depends on you beliefs. You can have a respectable IQ above 150 and be intelligent and still be a conspiracy nut. Just look up ‘Bobby Fischer’ as an example.

You CAN have an IQ above 150 and still be a conspiracy nut, but that statement doesn’t rule out conspiracy nuts having lower IQs on average. Has anything ruled this out?

Here’s a quick search, linking low intelligence to believing in profound sounding nonsense, for one.

Yeah, thats true. However, I’m more worried about the high(er) IQ individuals who also have the capability of inventing a reality where their conspiracy theory fits in. It takes a bit of intelligence and creativity to mold a narrative and sell it to others (for what, who knows).

Though, if you have a posh English accent, you don’t even need a high IQ.

You are correct. There are plenty of intelligent people that still believe the world is round. People will believe anything they are told.

wigby actually has a point. In studies of people who believe in conspiracy theories, they haven’t found any common factor outside of the fact that once you believe one conspiracy theory, you’re more likely to believe others, even those that might contradict others.

They have not found any correlation between intelligence and belief in conspiracy theories.

Source: an BBC Radio 4 science show (can’t remember which one) a couple of years back.

It actually kind of does, I think. Distinguishing between good and bad information is a skill that requires intelligence.

And people like this have nuclear weapons.

I don’t see where the US is involved in this news.

Russia (organizing the 5G disinformation campaign) have nuclear weapons, as well as UK.

And at the end of the day those people burning towers have voting rights. In the US they are in full power now..

I forgot the /s

this is like the kind of stuff people will read about in history books.

"during a pandemic in the early 21st century, people set fire to radio towers used for mobile devices because of the belief that it propagated illness"

We’ve voted in BoJo and gone hard for Brexit, this shouldn’t be a surprise.

Just stay indoors…

5G or not, these guys got their brains fried alright.

Didn’t the governments of Switzerland and Slovenia just stop the rollout of their 5G network because of "health concerns"?
That’s governments, I doubt they would base their actions on conspiracy theories?

They are democratically elected governments. So their actions are swayed by public opinions. We had health scares every single time a new "g" is launched, except now Facebook is bigger than ever and due to the pandemic, people are reading Facebook more than ever…

If we don’t have health concerns about new technologies when they are invented, then we deserve to die as a civilisation.


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