Here’s the Bonkers Conspiracy Theory Blaming 5G for the Coronavirus

The more widespread theory is that 5G weakens the immune system through radiation, thus making you more susceptible to COVID-19. Evidence has been offered in the form of United States maps, which allegedly show that the cities with 5G coverage have been most affected by COVID-19 outbreaks. Of course, this ignores two realities: One, most of the areas in the U.S. with limited 5G coverage are major cities with denser populations more susceptible to an outbreak; and two, plenty of countries—namely Iran—don’t have any 5G capabilities, yet have been hit the hardest by the virus.

And finally, there are the conspiracy theorists who don’t believe 5G is connected at all to COVID-19. In actuality, they say, the media is covering this obviously false link solely as a distraction tactic. The media and government accomplices are trying to diminish and lump together the anti-5G folks who have otherwise-legitimate gripes about 5G causing non-COVID-19 health issues.

When did this start spreading?

As Buzzfeed documented, unverified videos about 5G from YouTubers and conspiracy theorists started emerging over the last year or so, dating back to the origins of 5G installations in major cities. These videos, which include titles like “Man Who Works on 5G Towers Exposes Dangers to Come,” and “5G Tower insane radiation levels – Up to 21 times higher than safe limits!” have been shared hundreds of thousands of times, and have especially permeated Facebook. Their publishing dates, Buzzfeed writes, coincided with “the British telecom company EE [announcing] 5G service in six cities across the United Kingdom.”

Since late January 2020, when COVID-19 morphed into an official pandemic, QAnon followers across social media platforms, as well as users on the r/conspiracy page, have spread their theories about potential links to 5G networks. The real-world results, beyond the cell tower destruction, are increasingly apparent. One Reddit user, whose husband works for a cable company, says he’s been fielding calls from people who want to cancel their Internet over 5G concerns. “One guy apparently told him that he only coughs when he’s on the Internet on his computer, but not when he’s on his phone,” the Reddit user added.

But ultimately, random posters on the Internet are only capable of stirring up so much false information. Wired notes that their echo chamber eventually “started to break out, propelled by engagement algorithms that were smart enough to spot a viral trend but dumb enough not to notice the idiocy of its content.” A similar scenario unfolded about a month ago, when an obviously false, unrelated story about Oprah started trending due to engagement algorithms that amplified the voices of QAnon followers. And over the last week or so, it’s been non-fringe figures who’ve noticed the relatively mainstreamed 5G conspiracies, who’ve in turn been weighing in with inaccurate commentary that draws far more attention to the made-up situation.

Which celebrities and influencers are spreading false information?

Actor Woody Harrelson has posted on Instagram (see here and here), spreading the idea to two million followers that 5G is exacerbating the COVID-19 outbreak. The first post, which features the caption “I haven’t fully vetted it [but] I find it very interesting,” is a screenshot of a theory posited by Martin Pall, PhD, a professor emeritus at Washington State University. Pall recently predicted that in five to seven years, “human brains will degenerate to the degree that normal functioning… will cease.” (That’s a summarization of a point Pall made at a conference in Germany last year, according to a scientist in attendance.) And Pall’s big COVID-19 connection to 5G is a claim that Wuhan was China’s first “smart city” to incorporate the faster network, which there’s zero evidence to support. Pall’s citation, in fact, comes from a website called 5G EMF Dangers. The second post from Harrelson is grainy footage purporting to show Chinese citizens toppling a 5G antenna.

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