5G coronavirus conspiracy theory that led to arson attacks on cell towers is being pushed by Russia, security officials fear
- European law enforcement officials are being pulled off terrorism cases in order to investigate arson attacks against 5G cellphone towers.
- Towers have been attacked in the UK and the Netherlands. Online, the theory is also being promoted in the German and Flemish languages.
- It's a "tsunami of bullshit," one security official told Insider.
- "We have also seen a great expansion into pushing this narrative by social media troublemakers and bot networks controlled by state actors such as Russia, Iran and others," the source said.
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European law enforcement and security officials are scrambling to identify vandals targeting 5G cellular towers after a series of attacks on telecom sites in the Netherlands this week. The attacks are linked to conspiracy theories that the new high-speed Internet system somehow causes COVID-19 infections.Some of them believe the bogus theory is being promoted online by state actors, potentially including Russia and Iran, they say.
On Monday evening two telecom towers that were not outfitted with 5G equipment were targeted by arsonists in an Amsterdam suburb, according to the Dutch official, in what appears to have been a case of mistaken tower identity."We started seeing more and more social media in Dutch, Flemish, and German pushing this insane theory that 5G towers are behind COVID-19 over the last two weeks, as the UK attacks started, and now we are seeing multiple groups calling for the destruction of 5G towers across Northern Europe."
A 'tsunami of bullshit'
The theory that the arrival of 5G cellular Internet - which has been expanding across Europe and the United States for the past two years - was a major health concern began before the coronavirus outbreak. Dozens of videos purporting to show birds and other small animals behaving erratically or dying near towers had been circulated online. As COVID began to sweep across Europe and the UK, the claims of a link between 5G and infection from the virus became a "tsunami of bullshit," according to the Dutch official, who does not have permission to be identified speaking to the media."There had been an anti-vaccination style disinformation campaign by the usual lot of conspiracy theorists and online trolls looking to cause excitement by convincing people these towers are a risk," said a Belgian law enforcement official who has been assigned to an internal task force to prevent attacks on the 5G infrastructure.The source said that what was once a fringe theory that the 5G masts caused health issues - pushed by a notable slew of celebrities - is starting to explode as small groups of either conspiracy theory advocates or simple online trolls push one another to conduct a wave of attacks similar to what the UK has seen in recent weeks. The World Health Organization, as well as almost every other scientific body, has dismissed the concerns as not only physically impossible - radio waves cannot influence virus behavior - but as dangerously misguided.
The conspiracy theory now has bot networks controlled by Russia and Iran behind it
Both the Belgian and Dutch officials agreed that there were signs of a rising campaign to spread disinformation about the 5G and COVID that appeared to have significant resources, leading both to conclude that state actors have begun using the issue to spread discontent, fear and uncertainty in western Europe.
"Right now we have normal troublemakers claiming there's a competition among ad hoc groups to torch 5G towers across the Netherlands and Belgium, it's been an organic conspiracy theory in how it has developed," said the Dutch official. "But we have also seen a great expansion into pushing this narrative by social media troublemakers and bot networks controlled by state actors such as Russia, Iran and others."In an interview with the Al Jazeera network, a researcher in Qatar said that he had also found suspicious activity that appeared to have state-style resources behind it.
Marc Owen Jones, a researcher at Hamad bin Khalifa University in Qatar, who specializes in online disinformation networks, analyzed 22,000 recent interactions on Twitter mentioning "5G" and "corona," and said he found a large number of accounts displaying what he termed "inauthentic activity." He said the effort bears some hallmarks of a state-backed campaign. "There are very strong indications that some of these accounts are a disinformation operation," Jones told Al Jazeera.
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