From burning down cell towers, to accusing Bill Gates of spreading COVID through 5G waves, it’s been a delightful cavalcade of the funniest, stupidest notions to flitter through the internet. They have a Marjorie-Taylor-Greene wackiness about them (albeit without her nastiness); the sort of conspiracy nuttiness not quite attached to gravity or reality, like the flat earth, creationism or Trump won in 2020.
One headline I read while writing this screamed “Vaccines Deliver Graphene Oxide Nanotubes for 5G Mind Control” and warned:
… graphene nanoparticles find resonance in the frequency of 41,6 GHz microwaves of the 5G technology. Subjects inoculated with graphene oxide nanoparticles can be manipulated mentally by tuning into different frequencies inside the 5G ranges. They can feel, think and see feelings, thoughts or things that don’t actually exist. They could develop fake memories or delete real existing memories.
Oooh. Scary. Pseudo-science fictional, though. No 5G service uses 41.6 GHz right now; they use much lower frequencies because those travel further. The higher frequencies are in the FR2 group and because they travel a shorter distance, they are not currently used by 5G systems because the infrastructure is not in place for them. But don’t let facts get in the way of a good conspiracy.*
But the laugh-aloudest of them recently has to be buying a Faraday cage to put on your wifi to protect you from 5G. There are dozens if not hundreds of sellers of these things on Amazon and eBay eager to take your money. It’s a delightfully funny scam in the Darwinian sense, because if you know even a medium about actual science, you won’t be taken it.
Let’s back up a bit. The term 5G refers to a global standard that allows wireless devices (phones especially) to communicate better and faster. It’s not a thing: it’s a protocol for radio frequencies (RF). Devices are built to take advantage of its improvements with new transmitters and receivers. For the most part, all of this is invisible to consumers who simply want to have instant and reliable connections for their messages, videos, music, Alexa or Siri, and social media on all their devices.
Radio frequencies are sold or auctioned off by government agencies that determine which bands companies can use for radio, phones, TV, satellites, and so on. Their use is licensed and strictly regulated. In the USA this is done by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and in Canada by Industry Canada (IC). You can read a list of the whole RF spectrum that is licensed in Canada here.
You can search for 5G and find all sorts of techie descriptions about low-latency, OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing), TS 23.501, MIMO systems, beamforming, FR1 and FR2, Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), Massive Machine-Type Communications (mMTC), sub-6 GHz and mmWave bands. And please do if you’re inclined to learn more (Wikipedia has them all). But for the nonce, let’s skip the tech talk and leave it as simply a better, faster way for wireless devices to connect.
Like with any new technology or protocol, it arrived with a bandwagon of nattering Luddites who proclaimed it to be the work of a demon, god, New World Order, oligarch, Pope, Bill Gates, or an ultra-secret police agency. Conspiracy websites flourished.
The twaddle (politely called misinformation, more accurately called lies) that surrounded 5G’s rollout was certainly entertaining if you like watching the hard-of-thinking scurry about in tin foil hats. People actually burned down cell towers (more than 20 phone towers were vandalized in the UK alone, 29 in the Netherlands) believing that radio waves were spreading the pandemic. Several easily-befuddled-by-science-celebrities spoke out in support of this codswallop and recirculated nonsensical claims. Their fans went all chicken-little.
An “environmental” group in New York placed 5G among its safety concerns that also included, “pesticides, GMOs, fluoridated water, fracking, and synthetic turf.”
But, as an article on CNN pointed out, for the most part, nothing changed with the implementation of 5G:
Many conspiracy theories about the dangers of 5G focus on the radio frequencies that signals travel over. But experts point out that low-band and mid-band 5G networks operate at largely the same frequencies as existing networks.
“There’s nothing different in terms of exposure,” said Kenneth Foster, professor of bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania, whose research focuses on the health and safety aspects of electromagnetic fields interacting with human bodies.
Major advancements from 5G will come as a result of high-band networks, where signals travel over millimeter wave frequencies. But millimeter wave frequencies should prompt even less concern, NYU’s Collins said, because they can’t penetrate surfaces such as walls, trees or human skin (that’s one of the reasons they don’t travel well).
This brouhaha wasn’t really new. Although I can’t recall a similar furor over the rollout of 3G or 4G, there has been a murmur of anti-wifi conspiracies and pseudoscience for decades. Similar claims about health threats were made when microwave ovens were introduced. Try to find a home without one these days.
Wifi-as-a-threat even became an issue in my hometown’s municipal election about a decade back, with advocates demanding the removal of all wifi routers from local schools (despite that municipal politicians in Ontario have no authority over schools) as well as from public facilities like town hall and the arena. Ironically, most of those advocates also carried cell phones with them, not even aware of the hypocrisy of demanding we remove low-power routers when their phones generated ten or more times the RF. But it was too inconvenient to turn off their phones, so they focused their indignant ire on the lowly wifi router.
Since most of us have multiple wireless devices — phones, tablets, smart speakers, security cameras, streaming devices, smart TVs, e-readers, laptops, printers — we use wifi a lot. These devices all chatter constantly in radio waves with the router. Your phones also chatter with a cell phone tower and your TV with a satellite. Plus there are routers in every one of your neighbours’ homes, in restaurants, bars, supermarkets. Your wireless doorbell, baby monitor, walkie-talkie, garage door opener, cordless landline phones, drones, remote-control toys, car key fobs, and Bluetooth speakers — all speak in RF waves. And let’s not forget radio itself; broadcasting since the early 1920s, its RF waves inescapably fill the ether. 5G is just an evolution of the technology that’s been with us for the past century. Our world is saturated with RF (some of it is even generated naturally by lightning).
As noted in an article in The Atlantic from 2020, years of research have not provided the anti-wifi/anti-5G conspiracists with any actual evidence of harm. For example in threatened brain cancer:
The best evidence that electromagnetic radiation does not cause brain cancer is simple: We have been placing antennae on our bodies and next to our heads almost 24 hours a day for two decades, and the world has not seen an epidemic of brain cancer. In fact, in the U.S., the rate of new brain-cancer cases was lower in 2017 than in 1992.
But let’s not digress. Let’s fast forward to 2022.
A recent article on IFLscience was headlined, Conspiracy Theorists Buy Faraday Cages To “Protect” Themselves Then Complain When They Work. The story was about people who bought Faraday cages for their wifi routers on Amazon to “protect” themselves from 5G, then complained when they blocked the wifi signals.
I laughed and laughed. Are you kidding me? This is basic high-school science.
Okay, maybe not everyone is familiar with Faraday cages**, but in essence: they are enclosed metal bags, boxes, cages, etc. that block the transmission of electrical energy including radio waves. A small Faraday pouch is often recommended for keeping your key fobs in while not in use, so hackers can’t use more sophisticated devices to steal the codes from them and then steal your car or truck. Many embassies have entire rooms designed as Faraday cages so that enemy spies can’t use electronics to overhear conversations or hack into devices from afar. If you put your phone in one, you block its signal so it can’t send or received. So what do you think one will do when you put a wifi router in one?
I checked Amazon to make sure it wasn’t a spoof. And, nope, you can buy all sorts of covers and shields to “protect” you from radio waves, especially that nefarious 5G. Of course, this includes the wifi signal itself. One $55 product on Amazon promises “to provide 99.999%protecting across the frequency range of 10MHz to 3GHz and still over 99.6% effectiveness at 5.6GHz.” Which pretty much covers all your wifi signal (2.4 and 5 GHz). It adds as “benefits:
1.It does no any effect of the signal transmission.
2.You don’t have to turn the wifi router off to reduce the radiation
3.It can 90% to 95% of the harmful EMF & RF Radiation emitted by your WiFi Router.
4.The fabric is breathable, it will not let the wifi router in a hermetic space.
If you spend $90, you get a nice wire tray called a Tackmeter (one reviewer called it “a rebranded paper holder.”) to put your router into that promises to “block up to 90% of RF radiation, without affecting router network speed and performance.” Well, that’s true in one sense” the router’s internal performance won’t be affected because it’s attached to your modem via an ethernet cable (or the modem and router are combined). But outside the tray, your wifi will be dead or very restricted.
A similar package is offered at $190 that claims to be “tested and proven to block about 90% of the EMF routers emit,” and to “block 5G.” One unhappy customer poster a review complaining that her
WiFi will not work unless your in same room as router! It decreases the signal by 90%!! We really wanted to like it but it was impossible to use our phones in any other room of the house. Also the seller keeps the shipping fee $25 so that was annoying
Yes, it did exactly what it promised to do: block 90% of the signal. So why are you complaining?
Yet one woman claimed it cured her tinnitus, which she claimed is caused by “EMFs and dirty electricity i.e. internet connections and the like” (she said she did her “research” which for non-scientists means watching YouTube videos and going to conspiracy websites that bolster their confirmation bias). This is the sort of thinking that still allows homeopaths to exist and suck in customers for their sugar water cures.
If you have $73 to throw away, you can waste it on this lovely pink ball cap — I mean this “Anti-Electromagnetic Radiation Cap, EMF Shielding Hat 5G, 4G, WiFi, Mobile Phone, Protection Cover Hat” that claims to block 5G signals: “5G PROTECTION: 39.7dB emf shielding at 10GHz! Will help to protect against high frequency 5G radiation.High Performance Emf Bed Shielding from Wi-fi, Cell Towers, Cordless Phones, Smart Meters and More.” Wow. But you must be careful when washing it:
Use a neutral detergent solution and gently wash gently. It is recommended to wash as little as possible to prevent improper washing and affect the effect. Everyone has a different electrolyte. Usually, the human body is acid-alkaline. Acid-base plus cysteine ??(the main component of sweat) separates silver ions (the fabric is yellow). When you sweat, change to the outside. It is recommended to wear or wear the base for wearing.
I would certainly wear or wear the base for wearing when washing. But what exactly does it protect? I’m pretty sure that any RF that can penetrate skin and bone can easily reach all the areas not covered by that hat, including a good deal of brain matter. Not that wearers of this hat actually use theirs for anything notable, like thinking (these, then, would seem the perfect headwear for our local councillors).
Or you can spend only $69 to hide your tin-foil-covered-head with this stylish “Charcol” anti-RF ball cap: “a modern looking cap with shielded 6 Panels and Sloped Front.” Or spend $104 for this “Halsa EMF Blocking Hood can be used by people of all ages including but not limited to: children, teens, adults and elderly. The hood will help to protect from everyday exposure to radiation that is all around us. Shielding Efficiency of 99.995% (45dB at 1 GHz)” hoodie.
And if your wallet is eager to be emptied, spend a mere $219 to buy this EMF Protection Blanket in a stylishly sepulchral dark grey because it is…
made out of Steel Active for protection against high and low frequency radiation. Easy and quick protection on the couch, in the bed, on holiday, on business trips or while playing console games. Steel Gray is a tightly woven and contains steel threads that are not so soft on the skin, similar to a wool sweater. Use this blanket on top of clothing for comfortable use.
For $58 (plus taxes and another $14 for shipping) you can buy a shield for a smart meter because “the said device gives off frequencies which can be harmful for the family. The Smart Meter Cover blocks off up to 98% of harmful waves emitted by smart meters.” Aside from an unsubstantiated claim about harm, that would also block the utility company from reading the meter. I suspect they’d be unhappy about that. The description also claims:
Not sleeping well at night? Ringing in your ears? Migraine attacks? These are just some of the suspected effects of EMF radiation on people’s health. Your smart meter might be the culprit. Get the Smart Meter Cover and be protected against harmful frequencies inside and outside of your home.
I am gobsmacked that Amazon would allow such pseudoscience claptrap to be claimed. Okay, that’s a tautology because all pseudoscience IS claptrap, but why is it permitted when it clearly cons the gullible from their money? The claims made about health, illness, and protection amount to disinformation on the level of a Trump or Putin lie.
Amazon should take some responsibility towards its customers and 1) require all advertising and marketing claims about health and safety to be backed up by peer-reviewed research, or 2) require a disclaimer that these claims have not been shown to be accurate nor have they been proven in laboratory conditions.
But in the meantime, these products prove once again the old adage that “a fool and their money are easily separated.”
* The bands from 40.5 – 41GHz and from 41 – 42.5 GHz have been allocated by international agreement in 2003, long before 5G was even suggested (under the ITU: the International Telecommunication Union: see here for full report) for use in this hemisphere; the former for use by earth exploration satellites and space research (both ways), the latter for space-to-earth fixed broadcasting satellites. See here for more. In Europe, satellites and close-range targeting radars on military aircraft use frequencies up to 40 GHz.
** From Wikipedia:
A Faraday cage operates because an external electrical field causes the electric charges within the cage’s conducting material to be distributed so that they cancel the field’s effect in the cage’s interior. This phenomenon is used to protect sensitive electronic equipment (for example RF receivers) from external radio frequency interference (RFI) often during testing or alignment of the device. They are also used to protect people and equipment against actual electric currents such as lightning strikes and electrostatic discharges, since the enclosing cage conducts current around the outside of the enclosed space and none passes through the interior.