Panicking About 5G is a Celebrity Trend You Shouldn’t Follow

by on May 13, 2020 · 0 comments

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how important technology is for enabling social distancing measures while staying connected to friends, family, school, and work. But for some, including a number of celebrities, it has also heightened fears of emerging technologies that could further improve our connectivity. The latest technopanic should not make us fear technology that has added so much to our lives and that promises to help us even more.

Celebrities such as Keri Hilson, John Cusack, and Woody Harrelson have repeated concerns about 5G—from how it could be weakening our immune systems to even causing this pandemic. These claims about 5G have gotten serious enough that Google banned ads with misleading health information regarding 5G, and Twitter has stated it will remove tweets with 5G and health misinformation that could potentially cause harm in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. 5G is not causing the current pandemic, nor has it been linked to other health concerns. As the director of American Public Health Association Dr. Georges C. Benjamin has stated, “COVID-19 is caused by a virus that came through a natural animal source and has no relation to 5G, or any radiation linked to technology.”  As the New York Times has pointed out, much of the non-COVID-19 5G health concerns originated from Russian propaganda news source RT or trace back to a single decades-old flawed study. In short, there is no evidence to support many of the outrageous health claims regarding 5G.

New technologies have often faced unfounded concerns about their potential risks. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many people feared electricity in the home was making people tired and weak (similar to the health claims about 5G today). More recently, many were concerned that technologies such as microwave ovens and cell phones might cause cancer or other health issues, but studies have proved that these worst fears have little grounding in science.

Some of these fears are based on misunderstandings of how technology works or confusion over similar but distinct technologies. For example, in the case of concerns about cell phones and cancer, the fears may stem from misunderstandings about the differences between ionizing and non-ionizing radiation. In a time of uncertainty, we may want to rush to maintain the status quo. But any number of innovations such as the radio, trains, or cars that were once feared have themselves become part of the status quo.

Why does it matter if some people are afraid of new technologies? While it is completely rational to want to avoid catastrophic and irreversible harms, unfounded fears can risk delaying important and beneficial technologies. For example, work by Linda Simon suggests that the exaggerated claims and fears of electricity’s impact on health may have slowed its adoption. While all technologies carry some risks, can we imagine all that might have been lost if we had listened to those trying to convince us to avoid electricity out of an abundance of caution? we may laugh about fears of electricity and not understanding its benefits, we still see extreme reactions out of fear of new technology, such as recent attempts to burn 5G towers in the United Kingdom because of misinformation about the health risks.

The recent pandemic should remind why constantly improving connectivity and internet infrastructure has been beneficial. As more of us are working from home and have an increased number of connected devices, 5G will increase network capacity and enable faster download speeds. These improvements also play a key role in the development of a number of emerging technologies from smart home devices and virtual reality to driverless cars and remote surgery.

The problem is not in individual choices to avoid a specific technology, but rather how such technopanics can impact broader adoption of beneficial technologies and innovation-friendly public policies. The good news is policymakers recognize the importance of policies that enable 5G and are also informing the public on the facts about wireless technology and health. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Communications Commission has continued to pursue policies that can improve connectivity, including for advancements toward 5G.

While we may want to follow celebrity trends when it comes to the latest fashion or TikTok dances, we should only let them scare us in the movies and not when it comes to 5G. If we only focus on the most outrageous and unfounded claims, our fear might distract us too much to see its benefits.

Previous post:

Next post: