Public Confidence “Shaken” By 5G Misinformation Campaigns, Committee Says

A Federal parliamentary committee has found that the public’s confidence in 5G technologies have been shaken in the wake of a wide scale misinformation campaign led primarily by social media users.

The committee was established in 2019 to study the potential impact of a 5G rollout in Australia, led by telecommunications companies Tesltra, Optus & Vodafone, and it received several hundreds of emails from private citizens and groups concerned about health issues related to 5G technologies. It is chaired by David Gillespie of the Nationals, who conceded that there has been a tangible impact on public opinion as a result of misinformation on 5G networks perpetuating.

"Misinformation has filled the vacuum and public confidence in 5G has been shaken.”

The report - which you can access here - was an inquiry into the deployment, adoption and application of 5G in Australia, but warned that the “community confidence in 5G has been shaken by extension misinformation preying on the fears of the public, spread via the internet, and presented as facts, particularly through social media.”

“The communication of the reality of 5G has been neglected, allowing fears over health and safety, the technology involved and the application of 5G to take hold. Misinformation has filled the vacuum and public confidence in 5G has been shaken.”

The report details a number of the key issues that are often used by those opposed to 5G networks, including the body of research identifying the health impact of non-ionising radiation. 5G will initially be using the same spectrum band as current 4G networks, although they will move further up the spectrum in coming years. The report notes, however, that “higher frequencies do not mean higher exposure levels.”

The authors also countered a number of claims out there, stating that “unfortunately, a vast amount of misinformation about the safety and impact of 5G is out there.”

“Perhaps some confusion comes from the new spectrum bands 5G will use. The committee heard that ‘higher frequency does not mean higher power’, and that, in fact, devices will operate at a lower power due to focusing the 5G signal only to where it is required and the increased number of antennae, which means that users will have less exposure than under previous generations of mobile technology.”

The authors also noted that “the committee has been assured that 5G is safe.”

Some of the most outlandish 5G claims currently out on social media conflate the spread of the coronavirus to the network, with some members of the public torching a number of towers and harassing installation and maintenance staff. One of the most notable videos that went viral cited a so-called Vodafone executive who, according to The Guardian, “warned the pandemic was a global plot to install 5G and track the population through vaccines.”

“In reality, the Guardian revealed, the voice on the tape making the baseless claims is an evangelical pastor who had only worked in sales for Vodafone for less than a year in 2014,” it reported.

In 2019, Communications Minister, Paul Fletcher announced $9 million in government funding to help quash misinformation surrounding 5G and the health impact of a new network, which included the funding of further research, as well as a public education campaign.

The committee did, however, make a series of recommendations surrounding the potential health concerns of those opposed to the 5G network, including a recommendation that the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (Arpansa) should consult regularly with the public over their concerns. The committee also supported the government’s education campaign funding that was put forward last year.

Chris Althaus, chief executive at the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association told The Guardian that “we realised that there’s a much stronger communications role that we need to play, and we see a role for government in this as well and they have responded to that call. So there’s a lot more to do, and we’re very, very active on doing it.”

“Unfortunately, like in a lot of industries with a high technology focus, the latest generation and discussion about the latest generation tends to get out well ahead of its arrival into the market.”

“People have gotten used to hearing about it but they haven’t seen it, so we’ve got to do a stronger job now that 5G is coming to market. We’ve got to do a much better job of explaining the opportunities that 5G is going to bring,” he added.

For more information on how 5G could potentially transform the way in which we operate in both our personal and professional lives, click here.

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