There is a long history of fear of wireless technology based on vague allegations that it causes health problems and claims that some people are "electrosensitive". These fears were sustained by a handful of ambiguous studies that suggested possible connections between cell phone use and cancer, but most of them had significant problems. And many other studies saw no connection.
Even so, the gradual introduction of the next generation of wireless technology, 5G, has fueled health concerns in some circles. And while arguments against 5G have been around for months, they seem to have found a new focus thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, with rumors of a connection between the two seemingly inspiring people who set fire to the towers of mobile phones.
The way it always was
High-frequency radiation is relatively low in energy and cannot break chemical bonds. Like the nearby microwave frequencies, it can heat tissue. However, we are not aware of any mechanisms that go beyond heating and can damage human tissue through radiation at these wavelengths. And as mentioned above, there is no evidence at population level that radiation from these sources is a risk.
However, one of the challenges of this work is that the technology changes fairly regularly. Since the launch of the iPhone, we've seen WiFi use two different frequencies and multiple protocols while the cellular service has switched from LTE to 3- and 4G, and we're now seeing the introduction of 5G. Indeed, the introduction of 5G triggered a new wave of concerns that brought health risks that previous generations did not have. A higher bandwidth means more performance, doesn't it?
Not exactly. Wireless communication compromises service to get as much information as possible over a limited connection while minimizing power consumption. Some of the means to do this include things like reducing the error rate or compressing the transmitted data and are not dependent on radio frequency energy. Others, like beamforming, simply focus more available bandwidth on where an active device is located. They all take place in a context – mobile hardware – in which an increase in the power used for the transmission is strongly discouraged.
5G doesn't change that. In some situations, broadcasting on different frequencies. But these frequencies are generally blocked by things like walls. In any case, these frequencies are so low in energy that they do not cause molecules to break apart.
What the… ?
If existing health concerns about 5G are not based on identified risks, the alleged connections to the coronavirus in reality have an even less potential basis. There seem to be two basic ideas about how 5G signals are related to the corona virus. The first is completely free of evidence and mechanisms, but at first glance it is at least somewhat plausible: 5G signals somehow suppress the immune system and increase either the frequency or the severity of infections.
The second, completely separate from reality, is that the radio frequency signals from cellular services somehow produce the virus itself. Obviously no mechanism is postulated for this, as this is completely impossible. The fact that the coronavirus genome is clearly related to a family of similar viruses is never explained.
In both cases, the only "evidence" offered for support is when 5G was introduced compared to the presence of the coronavirus in some locations, and maps showing the locations of 5G services with the locations with the highest SARS Incidence can be compared -CoV-2. None of this makes sense as evidence. 5G was present in various places for a time without the presence of a corona virus.
The rest is just a coincidence. The early 5G rollouts all took place in urban centers, where high population densities have increased the spread of the virus. But many cities without 5G service also have a high incidence of the virus. The virus has spread to many rural areas in the United States.
Why shouldn't it make sense to stop someone?
Even a quick glance at the evidence would suggest that these ideas are ridiculous. But that didn't stop some people. Unfortunately, those "some people" who spread rumors about coronavirus 5G included celebrities who generally have a long reach. And if celebrities were involved in ridiculous health claims, you might have predicted that the connections would go back to Goop.
Of course, medical conspiracy theories are often widespread with no celebrities involved. Therefore, it cannot be said whether they have inspired the attacks on cellular hardware in any way. Since the beginning of April, there have been 30 acts of vandalism against mobile network hardware in the UK, including several arson attacks. People working on the hardware were also harassed.
At least some have attributed the spread of conspiracy theories online to government-sponsored misinformation campaigns. However, these campaigns would not work if they could not find a large audience of people who are willing to believe misinformation without looking for evidence.