False claims that 5G telecommunications technology causes a host of serious illnesses are “very likely” being amplified by the Kremlin’s media network and being repeated by Australians, according to new analysis.
Russia’s broadcaster RT (formerly known as Russia Today) and other alternative media websites are likely behind the uptick in 5G phobia in Australia, says Bret Schafer, a disinformation and media fellow at the US-based Alliance for Securing Democracy, a pro-democracy group funded by non-government sources.
“It is very likely that RT-promoted narratives are seeping into the Australian information environment via social channels,” said Schafer.
RT is a Kremlin-sponsored global media network that promotes an anti-Western worldview, sometimes with the help of disinformation.
This rise in 5G fears, including the notion that the technology causes cancer, comes as anti-5G activists increasingly gather in real life to dispute the science. In July Australians, directed by a Facebook page, gathered for a “Community Forum Exploring the Hidden Dangers of 5G Radiation” in Sydney, according to a tech industry report.
The meeting came a month after small numbers of protesters took to the streets in Melbourne, Brisbane and Hervey Bay to protest at the rollout of 5G technology. Groups continue to organise.
A search on Google trends shows interest in the phrase “5G danger” has accelerated since the beginning of the year, with Australia one of the top five markets for the search.
“Hampering the West’s adoption of 5G networks, for example by hobbling democratic decision-making by inducing regulatory or legal battles about 5G’s adverse health effects, would be a boon for the Kremlin’s own pursuit of the technology,” EU-funded counter-propaganda organisation EUvsDisinfo stated in May.
Stories promoted on RT “have since taken on a life of their own in the anti-Western and pro-Kremlin alt-media, which often have a symbiotic relationship with Russian propaganda outlets like RT and Sputnik”, EUvsDisinfo said in a statement.
Local government agencies and telco providers such as Telstra have been forced to respond to a surge of questions about the safety of the technology.
Schafer says scare campaigns can hit Australia either through “the direct impact of people seeing RT content” online or through what’s known as “information laundering”, when narratives by unreliable outlets, such as RT, “are picked up in some fashion by other more credible voices”.
RT claims to be the biggest “news” source on YouTube. RT’s coverage promotes the supposed benefits of 5G technology when discussing it in the context of China and Russia, reflecting the strategic interests of the Kremlin.