Celebrities criticised for ‘fanning flames’ of 5G coronavirus conspiracy theories after reports of phone masts set on fire

Videos claiming to show 5G towers on fire were posted to a page on Facebook, encouraging others to do the same

Anthony Cuthbertson,Conrad Duncan
Friday 03 April 2020 16:17 BST
Conspiracy theory about 5G and Covid-19 sparks online panic

Celebrities have been criticised for “fanning the flames” of conspiracy theories linking 5G technology to coronavirus after several videos claiming to show 5G towers on fire emerged on social media.

A Facebook page, which was created on Thursday, encouraged people to set fire to the towers due to baseless claims about the health risks posed by 5G technology, before the social media company took down the page on Friday morning.

Actor Woody Harrelson and former Dancing on Ice judge Jason Gardiner were among the celebrities who shared theories connecting 5G to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Conspiracy theorists are a public health danger who once read a Facebook page,” Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, said.

“Here, we also see similar groups of people keen to show their ignorance on a topic where they have no helpful expertise, nor any inclination to post useful public health messages.

“The celebrities fanning the flames of these conspiracy theorists should be ashamed."

On Thursday evening, West Midlands Fire Service said eight firefighters attended an incident involving a 70ft tower on a telecommunications site in the Sparkhill area of Birmingham, although the cause of the fire was not determined.

Fire crews were called to a blaze at a phone mast in Aintree, Merseyside, on Friday night but a spokesperson for Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service said there were “no signs of foul play” so an investigation into its cause was not launched.

The mast had been featured in a video shared on social media the previous weekend by someone who claimed to be measuring radiation from it.

On Friday, Mobile UK, the trade body representing network providers, described the conspiracy theories about 5G as "baseless", following videos posted on social media showing workers being harassed and phone masts on fire.

The trade body said it was "concerning that certain groups are using the Covid-19 pandemic to spread false rumours and theories about the safety of 5G technologies".

"More worryingly some people are also abusing our key workers and making threats to damage infrastructure under the pretence of claims about 5G," a statement said.

"This is not acceptable and only impacts on our ability as an industry to maintain the resilience and operational capacity of the networks to support mass home working and critical connectivity to the emergency services, vulnerable consumers and hospitals."

It continued: "The theories that are being spread about 5G on social media are baseless and are not grounded in accepted scientific theory.

"Research into the safety of radio signals including 5G, which has been conducted for more than 50 years, has led to the establishment of human exposure standards including safety factors that protect against all established health risks."

Facebook said the banned page was deleted for breaching its policies because it had the potential to cause real world harm.

However, one user claimed they reported the page early on to moderators for promoting violence, only to receive a response saying it was not deemed to be in violation of Facebook's community standards.

Elsewhere, O2 is issuing engineers working outside on essential network projects with a sign to explain they are a key worker, after reports of telecoms staff being verbally abused by members of the public.

"Engineers are out doing key work to keep everyone connected, making repairs and keeping the network running, so they'll show a sign to explain that," a spokesperson said.

One video shared on Twitter appeared to show a telecommunications worker being accosted by a member of the public as he tried to work

Additional reporting by agencies.

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