Throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, the popular social media platform Facebook tried to behave vigilant in keeping its users well-informed.
In late January, the company released a statement that there would be a removal of posts containing misinformation if it risked causing harm to people who believed them. By the following month, a statement was issued to Business Insider detailing that any ads promising to cure the coronavirus would be banned.
However, ideas about the viruses’ origins would proceed to circulate on the platform amongst users as time moved on. The most infamous theory of them all pertains to the notion that fifth-generation technology – often known as 5G – and the coronavirus are interconnected.
As late as 2018, 5G was discussed with optimism by sources such as National Geographic as it would mark yet another leap forward in technology. 5G is meant to move faster than 4G networks, relying on large blocks of contiguous high-brand deployable spectrum and unlike its predecessor, it is not hardware based but software-driven. As a result, updates are meant to be able to come more efficiently.
Questions about potential health risks were surfacing in 2019 due to the fact its frequency waves are close to ground level within industrialized areas. For this to occur in such a close-range caused people to wonder if the exposure would have health effects.
While this has even been a political concern in certain European countries, as well as parts of the United States in the past, there is no concrete evidence of 5G bringing harm to others and luckily, these fears are frequently noted to have similarities to past ideas about advancing technology.
China was a country that implemented 5G during 2019, the same year COVID-19 surfaced. Afterward, people online began to form speculations, tying the coincidence together. A notable event that occurred was that there was an image showing two different maps of the US. One was meant to show where 5G had been installed while the other showed the states that were most infected by COVID-19, outlets such as CNN criticized this comparison.
Ultimately, despite statements issued by scientists, doctors and officials insisting there is no connection between 5G and the coronavirus, people continued believing that 5G to be the true cause of this pandemic.
Amaha Sellassie, a public sociologist and professor at Sinclair Community College was first exposed to the infamous theory through a video sent to him.
“I watched the video,” he said. “And the evidence that I was shown – I didn’t really see how it could correlate.”
Sellassie likened how he processed the video’s information similar to doing a math equation: “You can make part of the equation work, or you can make another part of the equation work, but for it to really be real, the whole equation really has to work. And I haven’t seen anybody connect the dots in a way that clearly shows 5G was causing the coronavirus.”
In a worst-case scenario where 5G is harmful, it would have cancerous effects due to the sheer amount of radiation exposure. This is not like COVID-19, which is a live virus and has symptoms that align with what one may have if they have a cold.
“Now that we’re getting more data that’s showing that the virus was probably existing earlier than [scientists] expected and 5G supposedly started in October – but [scientists] are thinking the virus might have been around even before that,” Sellassie said, showing yet another weak point in the theory’s key speculations.
Sellassie believes people being drawn to such ideas is a result of people holding little trust towards systems in addition to the fact that people are often in the pursuit of trying to understand the complexity of the world. Furthermore, there is a push against intellectuals.
“There’s been a push against science and against knowledge, and that science isn’t seen as a valid source of knowledge,” Sellassie explained. “Some people don’t even think the virus exists, period. It’s a hard thing, we’re literally seeing something’s happening. A lot of people have died, gotten seriously sick – globally.”
Sellassie acknowledged that due to the fact that there is an abundance of information on the internet, being diligent with checking sources can additionally lead to mistrust because as a result, the abundance of misinformation causes people to doubt in what they hear or see.
“I think a deeper question is, ‘what is this virus teaching us?’” Sellassie said. “There are lessons coming out of this virus on an individual personal level and also on a societal level.”
Sellassie noted that the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks caused a societal change, with a pre-9/11 society and a post-9/11 society. Similarly, the pandemic is causing new norms to abruptly enter lives that will cause the current outlook that many possess toward the past to change. However, Sellassie does not believe this matter is grim.
“I think we’re seeing a lot more care for others,” Sellassie said with optimism. “Overall, I see people being more pro-human. I see people being concerned for the welfare of others. At Sinclair, I’ve been amazed to see how we take the knowledge we have in our classes and now we’re applying it to the virus.”