One of the damaged towers provided connectivity to the newly created Nightingale Hospital
Criminal damage to telecommunication infrastructure continued throughout the UK across the Easter holiday, with a further 22 suspected cases identified.
The attacks come as a result of a number of bizarre conspiracy theories linking 5G to the coronavirus – a claim which has been repeatedly scientifically debunked.
What is worse, the coronavirus pandemic has made communication infrastructure more vital than ever, and damage to towers can have dire consequences.
“Burning down masts means damaging important national infrastructure. In practice, this means families not being able to say a final goodbye to their loved ones; hard-working doctors, nurses, and police officers not being able to phone their kids, partners or parents for a comforting chat,” said Vodafone CEO Nick Jeffrey.
Perhaps unsurprisingly – after all, conspiracy theorists are hardly known for their research skills – many of the ‘5G’ towers damaged were in fact 4G towers, which the public has already been harmlessly exposed to for roughly the past decade.
Despite requiring a few precautionary evacuations, thankfully nobody was harmed due to these mast attacks, but these conspiracy theorists are proving increasingly dangerous; BT CEO Philip Jansen recently reported that 39 BT engineers had been physically or verbally assaulted, including death threats, by conspiracy theorists.
But where do these theories come from?
Social media is hotbed for the sharing of misinformation, with 5G conspiracy groups rapidly gaining members across a number of platforms. Coupled with a number of celebrities vocally sharing their 5G suspicions – most recently Eamonn Holmes, presenter of This Morning (who has since apologised) – these powerful echo chambers come to dominate certain social demographics on media platforms. On Twitter, for example, hashtags such as #5GCoronavirus and #5GKills have been growing almost exponentially since there inception a little over a week ago, whilst remaining mostly invisible unless searched for directly.
Facebook, Google and YouTube are amongst a number of platforms now working to reduce the sharing of misinformation from groups like these, but sadly their momentum does not seem to be slowing just yet.
Beyond the troubling psychology of the spread of conspiracy theories during times of strife, there is a learning point for society to take away from these attacks: science communication and education still has a long way to go. Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of physics and biology will be able to spot the clear flaws in the theories presented, but much of the public lack the education and critical thinking skills to reach these conclusions for themselves. The ways in which simple science is communicated to the public must be improved.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, there were countless surveys trying to gauge the public’s understanding of 5G, with most showing that customers understood it in little more than name. Perhaps these viral conspiracy theories are showing that while a bare-bones understanding of the new technology may be enough to generate hype and subsequent sales for operators, for many people 5G remains 21st century magic.