Engineers working on key broadband infrastructure are being verbally and physically abused during lockdown as baseless conspiracy theories about 5G technology spread online.
Wild and false claims, spread by social media groups and celebrities like Amanda Holden are prompting misinformed people to challenge those maintaining vital mobile phone and internet networks, the Guardian reports.
Overnight, a 5G tower was reportedly attacked and set on fire near the M57 motorway in Liverpool, the Liverpool Echo reports.
It’s just the latest in a string of incidents. Video footage of a telephone mast on fire in Birmingham on 2 April has also circulated widely alongside claims it was targeted by anti-5G protesters.
Network operator EE (BT-A.L) told the Guardian that its engineers were still on site assessing the cause of the fire but it “looks likely” that it was an arson attack.
Social media giant Facebook took one 5G conspiracy group down, but a large number remain, spreading dangerous falsehoods like a contagion.
EE said it would be working with the police to find the culprits.
The company said: “To deliberately take away mobile connectivity at a time when people need it more than ever to stay connected to each other, is a reckless, harmful and dangerous thing to do. We will try to restore full coverage as quickly as possible, but the damage caused by the fire is significant.”
The issue is so serious BT Openreach engineers have taken to posting public pleas on anti-5G Facebook groups, begging to be spared on-street abuse as they have nothing to do with mobile networks.
Mobile UK, an industry lobby group, say the incidents are affecting efforts to keep the networks that support home working and provide the country with critical connections that allow emergency services, hospitals and businesses to keep running. Telecoms engineers are designated key workers in the government’s coronavirus continuity planning.
In one widely circulated video that has attracted millions of views on Twitter, men working for the broadband company Community Fibre are abused by a woman who claimed without any evidence that they were installing 5G as part of a plot to kill the population.
— I’ve got all the time today (@aaqua_mel) April 2, 2020
“You know when they turn this on, it’s going to kill everyone, and that’s why they’re building the hospitals,” she tells the baffled engineers on a London street. “Do you have children, do you have parents? When they turn that switch on, bye bye momma. Are they paying you well enough to kill people?”
A spokesperson for the company said it does not use 5G anywhere in its network and praised the calm response of its staff.