You’ve heard it. The rollout of 5G, the fifth generation of technologies to support cellular networks, is behind the coronavirus. Even if you personally thought that was beyond a stretch, you know people who believe this latest conspiracy theory.
The problem, aside from the fact that coronaviruses have been around well before cellular technology even existed, is that that disinformation is being spread, well, as rapidly as the virus.
Researchers believe that the theories attaching 5G technology to the coronavirus pandemic were the result of deliberate disinformation.
Bloomberg reported that researcher Marc Owen Jones of Hamad bin Khalifa University in Qatar, who studies online disinformation, found that 22,000 Twitter references using the term “5G” or “corona” were likely the product of a state-sanctioned campaign.
“There are very strong indications that some of these accounts are a disinformation operation,” Jones told Bloomberg.
Other researchers agree. Blackbird.AI, a New York based company that also monitors disinformation online says that they’ve seen a “significant uptick in inauthentic amplification” according to their co-founder and CTO Naushad UzZaman. Global Disinformation Index agreed, telling Bloomberg they’ve also seen a lot of inaccuracy around 5G interactions online.
What no one seems to know is who is behind the targeted campaign, which researchers have found can be sponsored by government groups and/or groups that have their own specific agendas. Bots can be purchased to create fake accounts that help campaigns put out whatever information they want, whether its factual or not.
But Ali Tehrani, the London-based founder of Astroscreen, which monitors those kinds of campaigns on social media, said the real problem is the celebrities and other seemingly credible people who once influenced by the bots or other avenues, then use their platforms to further the theories.
“We’ve seen accounts that you could say are inauthentic and coordinated promoting the 5G conspiracy, but I think the bigger problem right now is high-profile individuals spreading misleading information,” he told Bloomberg.
Celebrities like actors John Cusack and Woody Harrelson and musicians Keri Hilson, Teddy Riley, Wiz Khalifa and British singer/rapper M.I.A. have promoted the theory via their respective social media accounts, which reach many millions of people.
Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg told CNBC that the rumors surrounding 5G are a lie.
“There’s no correlation at all between 5G and coronavirus,” Vestberg said. “It’s just fake news.”
Interestingly enough, there is a legitimate issue with 5G – the concern that it will cause problems for existing GPS networks. Ligado, the company that is seeking a contract to build those networks has applied for FCC approval, arsTechnica reported this week.
The U.S. Department of Defense wants to see that application withheld.
“All independent and scientifically valid testing and technical data shows the potential for widespread disruption and degradation of GPS services from the proposed Ligado system. This could have a significant negative impact on military operations, both in peacetime and war,” said Defense Secretary Mark Esper in a 2019 letter to FCC chairman Ajit Pai.
Pai is expected to approve Ligado’s application.