The paranoia about 5G — the industry term for the fifth generation of wireless communications infrastructure — has risen for the last few years, but as the world battles the pandemic, a baseless hoax has spread that the technology that runs cellphones could secretly be causing the outbreak.
Actor Woody Harrelson posted about the conspiracy theory on his Instagram, writing:
I regret to inform you Woody Harrelson is posting 5G coronavirus conspiracy theories on Instagram.
The video also isn’t “the Chinese taking 5G antennas down,” it’s from the Hong Kong protests. pic.twitter.com/y4RpOMJi9T
— Ryan Broderick (@broderick) April 2, 2020
This past Thursday, a 5G tower in Birmingham, England, went up in flames after a local Facebook group was flooded with anti-5G comments. 5G has so far rolled out in about 40 countries worldwide, most notably South Korea and China, but also in dozens of US cities, including Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. Before the coronavirus, fears about 5G tended to focus on cancer, the risk of which people feared could be increased from cellphone radiation. The evidence to support such a fear is weak to nonexistent, although meteorologists have worried that the technology could disrupt weather satellite forecasts.
The ever-changing nature of the global pandemic has meant that groups like New Agers, right-wingers, and conspiracy theorists, along with other misinformation communities, are both seeing huge internet traffic and need to reinvent their belief systems to fit the outbreak. These parallel news cycles give their followers a twisted, but orderly, sense of control in a genuinely chaotic moment.