VERA FILES FACT CHECK: FB posts float CONSPIRACY theory on 5G, RFID link to COVID-19

A conspiracy theory linking fifth-generation (5G) technology, radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips and the “devil” to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is circulating on social media. The bizarre claim is false and has been debunked by experts.

Saying the current pandemic is an “organized one world agenda,” the incorrect Facebook post published by several netizens claimed, among other things:

  • that humans are getting sick because the “bioengineered” coronavirus in one’s body is reacting to 5G,
  • that 5G is being installed in the country via “Mislatel towers,” and
  • that a coronavirus vaccine “with an RFID chip” will be introduced as the cure for the disease, which the post refers to as “mark of the beast.”

5G connection debunked

In a Q&A web page about 5G and health, the World Health Organization (WHO) said “no adverse health effect has been causally linked with exposure to wireless technologies.”

It noted that tissue heating is the main mechanism of interaction observed between radiofrequency fields and the human body, but radio frequencies emitted by current technology only result in a “negligible rise” in body temperature.

5G technology also does not spread COVID-19 because viruses “cannot travel on radio waves,” said WHO.

WHO has repeatedly stated that the virus is spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks, or when a person touches his or her nose, mouth or eyes after coming in contact with a contaminated surface.

The claim that severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), which causes COVID-19, is bioengineered, is likewise unsupported.

A study published March 17 in the journal Nature Medicine said evidence shows the virus is “not a purposefully manipulated virus” and that the researchers “do not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible.” Evidence collected by the WHO point to SARS-CoV-2’s “ecological origin in bat populations.”

Additionally, the prevalence of COVID-19 cases globally contradicts the claim that 5G makes people sick by causing a reaction with the coronavirus in the human body. Not all 188 countries and regions where COVID-19 has been recorded have 5G connection.

A February report by American network testing company Viavi Solutions says only 34 countries around the world have access to commercial 5G networks as of January 2020.

Mislatel does not have 5G yet

The conspiracy theory also mentioned “towers” of Mindanao Islamic Telephone Company, Inc. (Mislatel) as the source of the 5G frequency causing people’s acquisition of the virus in the country.

The Mislatel consortium, renamed Dito Telecommunity, which was awarded July last year the license to operate as the country’s third telco provider, has yet to offer 5G network services. Reports say that the company will start with 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) technology before it rolls out 5G services.

Globe Telecom Inc. is the only service provider that offers a 5G network for commercial use in the country, introduced June last year -- way before the first COVID-19 case in the country was confirmed on January 30 this year.

RFID vaccine as a cure: false and ‘preposterous’

The FB post also claimed that a “vaccine with RFID chip” will be given to people as a “cure” for COVID-19. This is false on two accounts.

Firstly, a vaccine does not cure a disease but prevents it. The United States’ Centers for Disease Prevention and Control broke down what a vaccine does:

“(It) stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies, exactly like it would if you were exposed to the disease. After getting vaccinated, you develop immunity to that disease, without having to get the disease first.”

Secondly, the claim of a COVID-19 vaccine being developed with an RFID chip has been called “preposterous” by a health expert, according to a fact check article of Poynter Institute’s Politifact that debunked a similar claim.

Dr. Wilbur Chen of the University of Maryland’s Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health said even the smallest version of RFID chips are still “rather large such that none would ever fit into a vaccine needle.”

RFID is an information-storing technology composed of a tag -- like in the form of a chip -- and a reader. Using radio waves, a reader will be able to identify tags in its vicinity and access the data stored in them.

Several iterations of the circulating FB post carried a screengrab of an article by website disclose.tv, published more than a year before the new coronavirus was identified. It made no mention of COVID-19.

However, disclose.tv’s thumbnail, visible in the circulating FB posts, is misleading. It spliced together a 2002 Agence France-Presse photo of the first implantable RFID microchip approved for human use, and a 2007 stock photo of a hand that was photoshopped to make it look like an RFID chip was inserted in its flesh.

The viral post on this particular conspiracy theory started circulating on March 30 and continued to be shared through the Holy Week likely because of its religious undertones. It posits that the pandemic was “organized” to give everyone the “mark of the beast” -- an allusion to a symbol of the devil from the Bible’s Book of Revelation.

The theory claims that worship houses and churches are being shut down “to weaken praise and worship activity,” so that "the Spirit of Anti-Christ can come." It tells others to share the information “if you love the Lord Jesus.”

The government has prohibited mass gatherings, including religious ceremonies, as part of the implementation of community quarantine to control the spread of the virus.

Social media monitoring tool CrowdTangle shows there are 141 identical posts by FB pages and public groups carrying the false conspiracy theory. Posts from April were reshared again starting May 10, a day after the Philippines marked its 100th day since recording its first confirmed COVID-19 case.

Four of the most shared versions of the post -- three of which were published by private netizens while one was published in public group LIFE SAVING STATION -- already accumulated over 9,600 shares, 2,200 reactions, and 1,700 comments.

(Editor's Note: VERA Files has partnered with Facebook to fight the spread of disinformation. Find out more about this partnership and our methodology.)

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