Fearing the Invisible
The long history behind the 5G COVID-19 conspiracy theory.
By JORDAN FRITH
APRIL 07, 20207:30 AM
“Before every pandemic of the last 150 years, there was a quantum leap in the electrification of the Earth.”
That’s the thesis statement of a YouTube video with the innocuous title “Dr. Thomas Cowan, M.D. Discusses the Coronavirus.” The 10-minute video features a man lecturing in front of a whiteboard. It looks like any other low-budget conference video, but that thesis—that pandemics are linked to the “electrification” of the Earth—got certain people’s attention. The video, which was posted March 18, has now been watched more than 660,000 times and has inspired a rather curious, rather dangerous conspiracy theory: New 5G mobile networks are causing the spread of COVID-19.
While the 5G COVID-19 conspiracy does seem to have almost come out of nowhere, it makes a certain amount of sense when placed within the history of wireless infrastructures. In the Cowan video at the center of the conspiracy, he links pandemics to one development after another in wireless networks. His lecture starts by talking about the 1918 flu, which he argues was caused by long-range radio. (Here’s a good thread debunking that theory.) He then uses his “electrification” thesis to move through the 20th and 21st centuries (while getting some dates wrong) to the activation of 5G networks and the spread of COVID-19 in 2019. The history he tells of new wireless infrastructures leading to new pandemics was picked up all over social media and became a key part of the spread of the conspiracy.
WATCH: Debate raging on link between 5G technology, coronavirus pandemic
By Staff Writer Mar 18, 2020
Coronavirus: Scientists brand 5G claims ‘complete rubbish’
By Rachel Schraer & Eleanor LawrieReality Check
- 5 April 2020
Conspiracy theories claiming 5G technology helps transmit coronavirus have been condemned by the scientific community.
Videos have been shared on social media showing mobile phone masts on fire in Birmingham and Merseyside – along with the claims.
The posts have been shared on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram – including by verified accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers.
But scientists say the idea of a connection between Covid-19 and 5G is “complete rubbish” and biologically impossible.
The conspiracy theories have been branded “the worst kind of fake news” by NHS England Medical Director Stephen Powis.
Many of those sharing the post are pushing a conspiracy theory falsely claiming that 5G – which is used in mobile phone networks and relies on signals carried by radio waves – is somehow responsible for coronavirus.
These theories appear to have first emerged via Facebook posts in late January, around the same time the first cases were recorded in the US.
They appear to fall broadly in to two camps:
- One claims 5G can suppress the immune system, thus making people more susceptible to catching the virus.
- The other suggests the virus can somehow be transmitted through the use of 5G technology.
Both these notions are “complete rubbish,” says Dr Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading.
While very strong radio waves can cause heating, 5G is nowhere near strong enough to heat people up enough to have any meaningful effect.
“Radio waves can disrupt your physiology as they heat you up, meaning your immune system can’t function. But [the energy levels from] 5G radio waves are tiny and they are nowhere near strong enough to affect the immune system. There have been lots of studies on this.”
The radio waves involved in 5G and other mobile phone technology sit on the low frequency end of the electromagnetic spectrum. Less powerful than visible light, they are not strong enough to damage cells – unlike radiation at the higher frequency end of the spectrum which includes the sun’s rays and medical x-rays.
It would also be impossible for 5G to transmit the virus, Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics at the University of Bristol, adds.
“The present epidemic is caused by a virus that is passed from one infected person to another. We know this is true. We even have the virus growing in our lab, obtained from a person with the illness. Viruses and electromagnetic waves that make mobile phones and internet connections work are different things. As different as chalk and cheese,” he says.