31 Aug The “Problem” with 5G
As the technological wave surges ever forward, does the oversaturation of misinformation on the internet act as a smokescreen for legitimate concerns? What does it tell us about the potential weaponization of ignorance?
Despite being the cumulation of almost a decade of engineering, research, and testing, 5G technology had the distinct disadvantage of entering the public rollout phase right at the peak of the conspiratorial period, which was the COVID-19 pandemic. With record-high rates of misinformation flying around, companies and local governments were cast into the fire along with the vaccine and mask mandates.
While most of these rumors were easily dismissed, the second wave of the criticism seemed to suggest that rampant ignorance was a smokescreen for legitimate causes for concern. Is there any truth to any of it?
When 5G started rolling out, there was the initial, expected rush of enthusiasm from consumers. Even without an understanding of the technology, many denizens of the internet had lived through the transition from 3G to 4G and then the introduction of LTE. The general consensus (for better or worse) was that 5G was good.
And then, the rumors started.
While rumors about 5G had likely been spread before the technology was even viable, the first mainstream claim that came out about it, seemingly originated from Serbia. There, an unknown scientist claimed that 5G was dangerous, and would adversely affect the health of the general public if rolled out as planned.
For proof, the individual pointed to the mysterious deaths of flocks of birds in the Netherlands that had occurred around October of 2018. Insisting that this incident was caused by 5G technology, the individual also insisted that there was no observable benefit to the new technology. All these postulations and “findings” were summed up in an article and posted online.
Unfortunately for those interested in truth and peer-reviewed research, this article made its way onto Facebook and spread rapidly due to its sensational claims. While the bird incident was true, and a limited rollout of 5G had started around 2018, this was clearly not the case, and the rumor soon quieted down.
However, it didn’t take long for the next problem to spring up; many people on the internet started to make claims about a purported link between 5G technology and the coronavirus pandemic. This claim being more ridiculous than the last, basically guaranteed that it would reach a much wider audience.
Of course, this was just the most prominent mainstream claim. Simultaneously all sorts of other crazy rumors started to make the rounds. Incredibly, people were so drawn in by this conspiracy theory that they got up out of their homes and protested the technology. So pervasive was it, in fact, that in several places, the intended 5G rollout was slowed due to protests.
Despite this, the rollouts did still happen, and by late 2019, far more reasonable-sounding objections had started to pop up around the 5G implementation. These more substantial concerns about interference, equity, and the decentralized nature of 5G technology were all swallowed by the bubble of hard-headedness that surrounded 5G.
You were either “in the know” and lobbying aggressively against faster browsing and better internet services, or you were “reasonable” and refused to even entertain the idea that new, untried tech might have some issues that needed addressing.
While there was no grand COVID radio wave conspiracy unfolding, there were a few legitimate issues with 5G, very few of which concerned public health or piqued the interests of anyone outside the industry.
Airlines raised concerns about interference with essential comms equipment and cybersecurity experts pointed out changes that opened up 5G technology to pitfalls that LTE didn’t. In addition, anyone that read up on the infrastructure had their fears about the myriad of cloud services involved.
Each of these questions and reservations was worked around or fixed, with individual companies taking the entire thing far more seriously than is characteristic of large companies. It is quite likely that the only reason the rollout went as smoothly as it did was that telecommunications have become the veritable lifeblood of society. No one wants to be the one that ruins 5G.
While there was no breaking point where people got more sensible about their approach to 5G, progress marched on despite the climate of misinformation. Apparently, deep down, most people cared more about faster Netflix than their own health. In a rather enjoyable show of rare responsibility, the real issues with 5G were largely sorted in the leadup to more general rollouts to the satisfaction of regulatory authorities. Now, large swaths of the world have 5G access and are enjoying the services therein.
It is easy to say all’s well that ends well and get back to using the marvel of technology that is 5G to stream Marvel shows at the highest possible video quality on Disney+ while conference calling your friends to make a hangout of it. However, the trend displayed in this case is a real problem, and the conversation around it should be bigger than just 5G.
In virtually every court of public opinion on the internet, the focus rests firmly on the disagreement rather than the actual matter at hand. We even see this in things as mundane as movies, where the general discourse seems to largely be independent of the quality of the movie, and is emblematic of this unfortunate quirk of modern consensus.
Just like the discussion around 5G raged on while tech companies and governments did whatever they wanted with the rollout. Granted, it turned out fine, this time. But all too often, these issues do not. If the trend continues, it will only serve to mask important shortcomings and pitfalls going forward, effectively allowing bad actors to weaponize ignorance and organically swell misinformation.
Unfortunately, the more vulnerable amongst us will shoulder the pain and suffering if we fail to fix this habit.