For all its tragedy, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about its fair share of good changes to the world. The internet is full of stories of dolphins appearing in Venice, neighborhoods in Italy spontaneously breaking out into song, and pollution declining across the world. Amid all those wonderful sights, some streets in England are dominated by a less wonderful scene, the flickering red light and smokey smell of burning 5G towers.
The spate of 5G burnings has its origin in an internet-based conspiracy theory that appears to have originated from podcasts. The idea that the rollout of new “5G”, fifth generation, cell towers caused the COVID-19 outbreak took root in social media networks, particularly Facebook, where the viral conspiracy theory has many devoted groups with thousands of members between them. Facebook shut down one of the biggest of these groups, but many more remain. There are even reports of workers laying 5G cables being harassed while they attempt to do their jobs.
The theory, to the extent that it can be called a theory, holds that the virus appeared in Wuhan China because the city had recently rolled out a 5G network, and is spreading to other cities with 5G. Scientists, of course, have pointed out that viruses spread first to major population centers like big cities, while cell towers are also installed in big cities because that is where most of the customers are. The correlation of these two things does not imply that one causes the other. Nevertheless the idea persists with a vengeance. Tech news site The Verge reports that seven English 5G towers have been burned in the last week, with three burnings occurring in the last 24 hours (as of Monday, April 6). At least one of those towers was an entirely unrelated cell station, mistaken for a 5G tower by the arsonists.
Let us be clear. 5G does not cause Coronavirus. There are literally thousands of trained scientists who say that this is wrong. Burning cell towers does not cure the virus. Arson is a serious crime. Please do not burn cell towers.