Tilting at 5G Towers: The undermining of justice and rule of law in the time of COVID-19

COMMENTARY

By Raul Rios (8 May 2020)

“Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them. With their spoils we shall begin to be rich for this is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless”. The passage is from Miguel de Cervantes’ timeless masterpiece, Don Quixote de la Mancha. In this part of the novel, Don Quixote takes windmills to be towering giants and attacks them, after doing so he realizes that they were nothing more than windmills, but is unrelentingly stubborn, insisting they were turned back into windmills by his magician archnemesis Friston. Some 400 years later, some people have started tilting at giants again but this time the giants are in the form of 5G radio towers. 

In the last couple of months, 5G telecommunication towers have been purposely damaged or burned down throughout the UK (50 towers), The Netherlands and Belgium (16 towers). 5G or the 5th generation of mobile networks, is a global wireless standard after 1G, 2G, 3G, and 4G networks, currently deployed in 20+ countries and utilized by critical infrastructure such as energy grids, defence systems and even the medical field (e.g. hospitals). The implementation of 5G, is expected to result in improved infrastructure connectivity and act as a driver of new technologies, which in turn will lead to economic growth, a seemingly positive outcome. So, why are people across Europe “tilting” at 5G towers, attacking telecommunications workers and how is this all related to COVID-19?  

When asked why they were attacking 5G towers and workers, several of the perpetrators stated that they saw via social media posts or other online media, that 5G towers resulted or accelerated the spread of coronavirus or caused cancer. Perhaps somewhat worryingly, these perpetrators, much like Don Quixote, had trouble distinguishing fact, even reality itself from fiction, often being purposely deceived into damaging 5G towers and attacking workers. In the past two months alone, Fullfact.org, an independent UK charity website dedicated to fact checking the latest news, has had to post several articles refuting these and other similar claims regarding 5G and the spread of coronavirus, including an article titled “The Wuhan coronavirus has nothing to do with 5G”.  Moreover, as of April 22nd, Twitter said it would ban tweets calling for the destruction of critical infrastructure or which cause widespread panic. YouTube has also decided to ban any videos linking 5G technology to coronavirus, adding that, “any content that disputes the existence or transmission of Covid-19” would now be in violation of YouTube policies”.

Yet surprisingly, this 5G narrative is neither new, nor is it being randomly disseminated. Indeed, in May of 2019, the New York (NY) Times posted an article titled, “Your 5G Phone Won’t Hurt You. But Russia Wants You to Think Otherwise”, outlining how the Russian media network, Russia Today (RT) America was spreading and creating a false narrative surrounding 5G, which it so aptly labelled as the “5G Apocalypse”. A narrative which at the time, conveniently correlated with the beginning of the implementation of 5G technology in the US. According to the NY Times, RT America promoted false narratives stating that 5G causes adverse health effects ranging from brain cancer, infertility, autism, heart tumours and Alzheimer’s disease and even death. Yet, the World Health Organization, the United Kingdom’s regulatory serviceThe International Commission on Nonā€Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) based in Germany,  The US National Cancer Institute and Food and Drug Administration all state that there are no adverse or negative health effects resulting from the technology which 5G is based on.

So why is it, that in the time of COVID-19, the false narrative revolving 5G has been amplified, consequently resulting in the burning down of 5G towers?  One possible answer, is that the coronavirus, has exponentially increased the fear, anxiety and irrationality of some segments of the global population, resulting in the ideal environment and conditions for some actors to exploit the situation to their advantage. With more time on their hands and often being confined to their homes, people will more likely be browsing social media and the web, coming across these false narratives. Whether by chance or by seemingly planned design, is currently still being assessed by Governments around the world. The European Commission itself has released a report on disinformation attacks throughout the EU in relation to the coronavirus and even a video on 5G and the spread of the coronavirus in April.

So, what does this all mean for justice, rule of law and the internal security of our societies? The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has rightly observed, “A society that is not well informed is not a society that is truly free.” If having a well-informed population is the metric in which we judge how free our societies truly are, then everyday those freedoms are being eroded thanks to false narratives such as the 5G Apocalypse. These insidious and false narratives are purposely targeting scared, fearful and misinformed segments of the population. The consequences to justice and rule of law in our societies are direct and tangible, often resulting in the destruction of the very same critical infrastructure needed to fight the global pandemic and save lives and even propagating radical views fuelled by mistrust against the government. Governments must do a better job of responding to these narratives and the mistrusts they have created. Not through heavy-handed approaches but through holistic interventions, acknowledging that people are scared and that they should be aware that they are purposefully being targeted via strategies which can only be described as morally vile and reprehensible. If nothing is done many more misguided and unfortunate citizens could very well end up with the same sad fate as Don Quixote.