A conspiracy theory linking 5G technology to the outbreak of the coronavirus is quickly gaining momentum, with celebrities including actor Woody Harrelson promoting the idea. But the theory is also getting a boost from what some researchers say is a coordinated disinformation campaign.
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 said.
Jones said the campaign uses a strategy similar to Russia’s Internet Research Agency, which was behind a disinformation campaign during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. But he said he hasn’t yet concluded that Russia, or any other government or organization, is behind the effortEven so, we do know that Russia has openly waged disinformation war against Western 5G in others ways. Last year, William J. Broad reported at NYT:
The Russian network RT America aired the segment, titled “A Dangerous ‘Experiment on Humanity,’” in covering what its guest experts call 5G’s dire health threats. U.S. intelligence agencies identified the network as a principal meddler in the 2016 presidential election. Now, it is linking 5G signals to brain cancer, infertility, autism, heart tumors and Alzheimer’s disease — claims that lack scientific support.
Yet even as RT America, the cat’s paw of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, has been doing its best to stoke the fears of American viewers, Mr. Putin, on Feb. 20, ordered the launch of Russian 5G networks in a tone evoking optimism rather than doom.
“We need to look forward,” he said, according to Tass, the Russian news agency. “The challenge for the upcoming years is to organize universal access to high-speed internet, to start operation of the fifth-generation communication systems.”
Analysts see RT’s attack on 5G as geopolitically bold: It targets a new world of interconnected, futuristic technologies that would reach into consumers’ homes, aid national security and spark innovative industries. Already, medical firms are linking up devices wirelessly to create new kinds of health treatments.
“It’s economic warfare,” Ryan Fox, chief operating officer of New Knowledge, a technology firm that tracks disinformation, said in an interview. “Russia doesn’t have a good 5G play, so it tries to undermine and discredit ours.”