Following on from yesterday’s post about nations, governments and how we talk about them, I want to talk about 5G phone networks. “5G” is the term for an upgraded cellular network for mobile phones using higher frequency bands for transmitting data. It’s also the term being used for the standard hype from mobile phone companies who would like you to spend more money.
Just as the advertising recapitulates past campaigns for 3G and 4G capable phones, so to does the pseudoscience recapitulate past campaigns about the dangers of electromagnetic radiation. Fears about radio waves causing illness are not quite as old as anti-vaccine scare campaigns but they have been going on for decades. The fears and claims are the same but shaped to fit the actual changes to the technology e.g. 5G signals using higher frequencies.
How does this connect with yesterday’s post? News stories about the 5G roll-out have touched on the geopolitics of both the Chinese and Russian governments in quite different topics.
The Russia-related story has been the RT news network. RT has been running 5G health scare stories. A recent New York Times article says:
The Russian network RT America aired the segment, titled “A Dangerous ‘Experiment on Humanity,’” in covering what its guest experts call 5G’s dire health threats. U.S. intelligence agencies identified the network as a principal meddler in the 2016 presidential election. Now, it is linking 5G signals to brain cancer, infertility, autism, heart tumors and Alzheimer’s disease — claims that lack scientific support.https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/12/science/5g-phone-safety-health-russia.html
Yet even as RT America, the cat’s paw of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, has been doing its best to stoke the fears of American viewers, Mr. Putin, on Feb. 20, ordered the launch of Russian 5G networks in a tone evoking optimism rather than doom.
The article is interesting and RT manifestly is a source of a huge amount of nonsense and misinformation. However, there are parts of the NYT article that worry me e.g.:
“It’s economic warfare,” Ryan Fox, chief operating officer of New Knowledge, a technology firm that tracks disinformation, said in an interview. “Russia doesn’t have a good 5G play, so it tries to undermine and discredit ours.”https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/12/science/5g-phone-safety-health-russia.html
On the one hand, RT definitely IS a source of dangerous nonsense targetted at gullible people on the other I find it implausible that RT pushing this specific health scare is some targetted piece of economic warfare. Given the range of nonsense it is pushing out, it would be surprising if they didn’t hit this particular spot. It is an example of the same kind of free floating fear mongering that anybody used to the British tabloid press will be familiar with, what Ben Goldacre described The Daily Mail as having: “an ongoing ontological program to divide all inanimate objects into ones that will either cause or cure cancer.”
Put another way, I can easily believe that RT is being used by Vladimir Putin to general stir-up fear and paranoia but I doubt that there’s specific agendas for each piece of nonsense, particularly when the nonsense long predates RT or Putin’s government. For example here is one such UK tabloid indulging in the same nonsense: https://www.express.co.uk/news/weird/1124956/5g-mobile-phone-4g-cancer-health-risk-conspiracy-theory
Of course, the ever horrible Express has its own long running right wing agenda but if you try and tie each piece of scaremongering to a specific agenda (except when it is obvious) you will end up with a pile of contradictions. The agenda is fear and insecurity in general and the more prosaic motive that alarm sells newspapers (or in RT’s case YouTube hits).
Meanwhile there is a different but still 5G related story about China. The tech companies Huawei and ZTE are now global players in telecommunications. Their prominence has led to fears that these companies might be exploited by the Chinese government to add surveillance features or backdoor routes through security systems in products in other nations.
These concerns led to Australia preventing Huawei’s involvement in 5G infrastructure projects in Australia.
A spokesperson from the Department of Home Affairs told the ABC that while the Government recognised the opportunities 5G networks presented, it was also important to ensure that Australia’s information and communications was protected at all times.https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-03-07/why-is-the-uk-seemingly-not-as-worried-about-huawei-as-australia/10866848
“Following an extensive review, the Australian Government is advising the companies that will build these networks [network operators] that they must ensure the protection of Australia’s interests above all others,” the spokesperson said.
The Trump administration has taken an even more draconian line on Huawei: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concerns_over_Chinese_involvement_in_5G_wireless_networks#United_States_allegations_and_responses
I definitely don’t want the Chinese government to be able to spy on my phone data but then again I don’t want the US government to do that either! The tangle of commercial rivalries versus government machinations makes it difficult to take any claim at face value. The US government’s policy is tied up not just with (possibly legitimate) security concerns but also with Trump’s trade war with the Chinese government.
It is noise in multiple senses. It is distracting and it makes finding actual information difficult or impossible. https://www.bbc.com/news/business-46465438