The government has launched a blistering attack against people spreading the “crazed conspiracy theory” that 5G masts are spreading coronavirus.
Boris Johnson’s official spokesman warned on Tuesday that vandals who destroy 5G masts are putting lives at risk and said ministers would talk to social media companies about clamping down on misinformation.
“The secretary of state is due to speak to the big social media firms later on this week to be very clear about the need to stop the spread of what is a crazed conspiracy theory,” he said.
“You’ve seen reports of criminal vandalism against 5G masts – people need to understand that by destroying these masts they’re actually putting lives at risk, because these are masts that emergency responders rely upon.”
The warning comes after after videos purportedly showing masts on fire were posted on social media, leading UK mobile network providers to warn against the spread of “baseless” theories linking coronavirus to 5G.
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One unfounded claim is that 5G could have caused the coronavirus outbreak because Wuhan, the Chinese city where the virus originated, was one of the cities where it was first rolled out.
Another is that radiation emitted from 5G towers sucks oxygen from the atmosphere and affects people's ability to breathe.
West Midlands Fire Service said eight firefighters attended an incident on Thursday evening involving a 70-foot tower on a telecommunications site in the Sparkhill area of Birmingham – though a spokesman said the cause was yet to be identified and could not confirm whether the mast in question was 5G.
Several videos claiming to show 5G towers on fire were posted to a page on Facebook that encouraged others to do the same.
The page was created on Thursday and taken down by Facebook on Friday morning.
Mobile UK, the trade body that represents network providers, said it is “concerning that certain groups are using the COVID-19 pandemic to spread false rumours and theories about the safety of 5G technologies”.
“More worryingly some people are also abusing our key workers and making threats to damage infrastructure under the pretence of claims about 5G,” a statement said.
The top four UK mobile operators have also issued a joint statement asking for help to stop people burning 5G towers.
EE, O2, Three and Vodafone said stopping the attacks is critical to keeping communities across the UK connected during the pandemic.
“We are 100% focused on making sure the UK’s mobile and broadband networks are resilient, ensuring you, your families and businesses, can keep connected when you need it most,” the statement said.
“Sadly, we have experienced cases of vandals setting fire to mobile masts, disrupting critical infrastructure and spreading false information suggesting a connection between 5G and the COVID-19 pandemic. There is no scientific evidence of any link between 5G and coronavirus. Fact.
“Not only are these claims baseless, they are harmful for the people and businesses that rely on the continuity of our services. They have also led to the abuse of our engineers and, in some cases, prevented essential network maintenance taking place.”
The networks called for people to stop spreading misinformation online and report vandalism or any abuse of key workers carrying out essential maintenance.
Last week, a Change.org petition claiming 5G is responsible for the coronavirus pandemic was removed after receiving more than 100,000 signatures.
Presenter Amanda Holden re-posted it but deleted it soon after.
A spokesperson for Holden told The Independent that she had posted the tweet, which stated: "No to 5G!!! – Sign the petition!”, "by mistake from a link she clicked on".