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Phone towers targeted amid virus-5G conspiracy theory

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Conspiracy theories connecting coronavirus to 5G internet continue to spread unchecked, with South Australians sharing misinformation on social media and celebrating a fire at an Adelaide mobile phone tower – one of many targeted interstate and overseas.

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Authorities in Victoria are concerned such conspiracies are linked to refusals to get tested during the resurgence of the virus there over the past fortnight.

An Essential survey in late May suggested one in eight Australians believe 5G is being used to spread COVID-19, with a further 13 per cent unsure.

Dozens of phone towers have been attacked in the UK and New Zealand, and vandalism of mobile phone infrastructure linked to the conspiracies has taken place in New South Wales and Victoria, including one fire in May that prompted the call up of counter-terrorism police.

In April, a Nazi flag tied to two Chinese flags was hoisted up a mobile phone tower in regional Victoria, along with COVID-19 signage.

In South Australia, on May 9 up to a million dollars in damage was caused to a Vodafone tower in Morphett Vale, with Crime Scene investigators at the scene believing the fire was deliberately lit.

A neighbour told InDaily that when police visited their property to obtain security footage of the incident, the officer told her links to anti-5G activists were suspected.

News of the fire was celebrated online by anti-5G activists in South Australia, including one who posted: “Yesssss this is awsome [sic] us the people are finally striking back this needs to happen more get rid of them all!!!! Theyre everywhere now all since we have been in lockdown!!!!”

On Facebook, tens of thousands of Australians are members of national and Adelaide-based groups sharing misinformation on 5G links to immune systems.

One national group is telling its 20,000 followers that the 5G rollout cannot be halted via protests or petitions, and to message privately to learn how they are “working on something outside of the system” to stop it.

Small unauthorised protests in Adelaide and other cities against 5G, vaccines, and the lockdown have taken place in breach of social distancing rules.

Similar theories were spread as both 3G and 4G internet was rolled out.

Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association CEO Chris Althaus said the incident and others around Australia had prompted the industry to improve security and surveillance at tower sites, as well as coordinating with federal and state police forces to protect infrastructure.

“SA police have been very engaged,” he said, noting that connectivity is particularly important during the pandemic, with attacks threatening signals people need to contact health services or work remotely.

“Police forces are becoming increasingly aware of where infrastructure is, with particular units advised to be more mindful. Phone carriers also through their engineering workforces are now more attentive to anything like suspicious behaviour.”

Althaus said even non-5G infrastructure needs additional protection, as activists frequently target the wrong towers.

SA police said that while there had been protests about 5G towers in Australia, “at this stage there is no evidence that anti-5G protestors are a threat to infrastructure in this state”.

Althaus said the industry has been working with state and federal governments on messaging campaigns, although he only cited examples of official factsheets and government press releases, and could not point to an example of social media outreach, where the misinformation is spreading.

SA Health has specifically addressed the issue in its frequently asked questions webpage.

“There is no established evidence that low level radio wave exposure from 5G and other wireless telecommunications can affect the immune system or cause any other long term or short term health effects,” the statement reads.

Many of the concerns around 5G are based on confusing the potentially harmful effects of ionizing radiation (such as that generated by X-Rays) with 5G’s non-ionising radiation (which is also generated by visible light).

Professor Rodney Croft, of the University of Wollongong’s Australian Centre for Electromagnetic Bioeffects Research, told InDaily “science has not been able to identify any adverse health effects” at the levels of radiofrequency 5G is permitted to operate at.

“Although there are always a lot of strange claims about adverse health effects due to new telecommunications technologies, this is a particularly absurd claim,” he said of the 5G link.

“5G does not affect coronavirus, and no evidence has been put forward in support of the claim, even very poor evidence.”

To counter misinformation, he said presenting the science clearly and accurately should suffice for most people.

“For those who are not willing to take on board what science has to say, it is really not clear how usefully the issue can be approached,” he said.

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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.

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