Belief That 5G Causes COVID-19 Linked to Violence, Anger and Paranoia

Believing in conspiracy theories surrounding 5G technology and COVID-19 has been linked to violence in a study.

Conspiracy theorists have claimed without evidence that electromagnetic waves transmitted by 5G technology are responsible for the novel coronavirus which causes the disease COVID-19. Belief in the theory has led some in parts of Europe, North America, and the Australias to set fire to telecommunication masts and physically and verbally abuse engineers, according to the authors of the paper, which is published in the British Journal of Social Psychology.

Past studies have linked conspiracy theories with violent intent. To explore why and when this might happen, researchers asked 601 British people to fill out surveys about conspiracy theories in general, as well as those linked to 5G and COVID-19. For instance, they were asked to state how strongly they agreed with statements like "I think that events which superficially seem to lack a connection are often the result of secret activities" and "The real truth about the link between COVID‐19 and 5G is being kept from the public."

Participants also completed surveys about how angry they felt in that moment, whether they would ever justify using physical violence, and levels of paranoia—such as if they thought someone was out to get them.

Next, the team showed participants news stories about the rise of 5G and COVID-19 conspiracies, and attacks on masts, and asked whether they would engage in such acts and if they thought they were justified.

The data revealed a link between believing in 5G COVID-19 conspiracy theories and violent responses, brought about by anger. This association was strongest for those with the highest levels of paranoia. These patterns also emerged from questions about general conspiracy theories and violence, leading the authors to believe their findings could relate to these beliefs more widely, not just in regards to COVID-19 and 5G.

The team hopes their findings could prevent violence, by prompting research on ways to help paranoid people respond to their anger triggered by conspiracy theories in appropriate ways.

However, the study was limited for a number of reasons, the team acknowledged, including because the participants' viewers were only measured once, and they were only able to find correlations between factors.

Jenny Paterson, co-author and senior lecturer in psychology at Northumbria University, said in a statement: "These findings are notable because of their possible practical implications. As conspiracy beliefs can be resistant to change, our research suggests that targeting the link between anger and violence may be an effective initial approach to mitigate the relationships between conspiracy beliefs, anger and violence."

Co-author Daniel Jolley, senior lecturer in psychology at Northumbria University, told Newsweek via email: "Conspiracy theories were once thought to be harmless fun, [while] our research highlights that this may not be the case. Conspiracy theories are important!"

Jolley said: "Conspiracy theories often emerge in times of crisis in society, when people are seeking to make sense of a chaotic world and need to address feelings of uncertainty and threat. With its ensuing worldwide chaos, COVID-19 typifies the most fertile ground for conspiracy theories to bloom."

This article has been updated with comment from Daniel Jolley.

5g mast, getty
A mobile phone mast is shown on May 24, 2020 in Cardiff, United Kingdom. There have been isolated cases of 5G phone masts being vandalized following claims online they are responsible for the coronavirus which causes COVID-19. Matthew Horwood/Getty Images