In the early 19th century, some British weavers and textile workers were so hostile to new-fangled mechanical looms and knitting machines that they banded together and destroyed a great many of them, sometimes with fire. The reactionaries were known as Luddites (a term that later came to refer to anyone who dislikes new technology).
The U.K. still produces its fair share of these people. Modern-day Luddites have coalesced around the idea of fighting cell phone towers, sometimes by sabotaging them or setting them on fire. The activists are convinced, without proof, that a new crop of 5G towers is even more dangerous than their 3G and 4G predecessors. The towers are blamed for a range of complaints, from headaches to infertility, from cancer to autism. And now, we can add COVID-19 to that list.
Across Britain, more than 30 acts of arson and vandalism have taken place against wireless towers and other telecom gear this month. …
The attacks were fueled by the same cause, government officials said: an internet conspiracy theory that links the spread of the coronavirus to an ultrafast wireless technology known as 5G. Under the false idea, which has gained momentum in Facebook groups, WhatsApp messages and YouTube videos, radio waves sent by 5G technology are causing small changes to people’s bodies that make them succumb to the virus.
We know the coronavirus readily jumps from host to host, and the same appears to be true for the virus that spreads misinformation and ignorance.
Across the Channel, in the Netherlands, arsonists have set fire to at least fourteen 5G towers in recent months. A Dutch Facebook group with 33,000 followers has been egging on the vigilantes. Some members post purported locations of current and future 5G technology, a form of doxxing inanimate objects. When a group poll asked how best to counter the ostensible threat of 5G, most participants voted for sabotage and destruction.
Predictably, the U.S. has its own contingent of cell-tower alarmists. According to the New York Times,
The false theory linking 5G to the coronavirus has been especially prominent, amplified by celebrities like John Cusack and Woody Harrelson on social media. …
“A lot of my friends have been talking about the negative effects of 5G,” Mr. Harrelson wrote on Instagram to his two million followers last week, sharing a screenshot of an article that drew links between the outbreak in Wuhan and 5G development there.
… the 10 most popular 5G coronavirus conspiracy videos posted in March were viewed over 5.8 million times. Today, the conspiracy can be found on Facebook in over 30 countries, including Switzerland, Uruguay, and Japan.
Some of the
mad tin-foil hatters think that governments’ shelter-in-place directives are not actually the product of the corona-crisis, but are instead designed to give cover to some telecom cabal’s plan to build more 5G towers — in secret. The most committed among the new Luddites defied the orders to stay home and have gone looking for telecom technicians to harass.
I wish it went without saying that sabotaging cell towers is a bad idea (and a felony) in normal times; and it becomes monstrously irresponsible in the era of COVID-19. The last thing overworked EMTs and beleaguered hospitals need is trouble with their cellular communications. Lives now hang in the balance even more than before.
Conspiracy theories have gone from being merely kooky to potentially deadly. The spreaders are ridiculous and pitiable; but their compadres who act, the arsonists and other vandals, are dangerous to the point of being lethal. If found, they probably ought to be charged with something more serious than destruction of property.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Bert for the link)